Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

"Dos and Don'ts" or "Do's and Don'ts"?

We're happy to introduce the first in a series of tips on usage and style from Grammar Girl, a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty. First up: how do you punctuate do and don't when the words are pluralized?

What's the Trouble? The spelling of do's and don'ts is inconsistent.

Generally, you don't use apostrophes to make words or abbreviations plural (e.g., CDs, 1970s, hats), but English has a few exceptions. For example, you can use apostrophes when they help eliminate confusion, which happens most often with single letters. Mind your p's and q's is the typical spelling, and we write that the word aardvark has 3 a's, not 3 as.

Dos and don'ts is an especially unusual exception. The apostrophe in the contraction doesn't seems to make people want to use an apostrophe to make do plural (do's and don'ts), but then to be consistent, you'd also have to use an apostrophe to make don't plural, which becomes downright ugly (do's and don't's).

Style guides and usage books don't agree.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style and others recommend dos and don'ts.
  • The Associated Press and others recommend do's and don'ts.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves recommends do's and don't's.

What Should You Do? Unless your editor wishes otherwise, if you write books, spell it dos and don'ts; and if you write for newspapers, magazines, or the Web, spell it do's and don'ts. If you're writing for yourself, spell it any way you want. Just be consistent.

For more on using the apostrophe in plurals, see Erin Brenner's "Punctuation Point: The Apostrophe, Beyond the Basics."

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Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl. She is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network, author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and the creator of the iOS game Grammar Pop. She is also the Donald W. Reynolds Chair of Media Entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism and Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Click here to read more articles by Mignon Fogarty.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday June 11th 2014, 4:52 PM
Comment by: Anonymous
I'm drawn to these tips and tricks like moths to a flame. They sure do ameliorate the learning process of the numerous nuances in Grammar and Punctuation.

This is the first time I've heard about you Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty), and after checking out the links provided, I find your presentation of the material to be learned fun, simple, yet still instructive and engaging enough to be an enjoyable experience.

I bookmarked the included links for cogitation and perusal and will be buying your book today on Amazon, "101 Words to Sound Smart", and am looking forward to learning from it even more fun and delectable words that I do here at Vocabulary.com!
Wednesday June 11th 2014, 5:15 PM
Comment by: Anonymous
I forgot to mention that I recently purchased, "The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation", a book referenced on Grammar Girl's links, finding it an efficacious and invaluable source for effective writing.

I'm not a writer of any sorts, but am fascinated by and eager to learn more about the prose of language, with my primary interest being attaining and learning more vocabulary words.
Thursday June 12th 2014, 12:14 AM
Comment by: Rhonda H. (WA)
I love you Grammar Girl!
Thursday June 12th 2014, 1:20 AM
Comment by: Kenneth P.
I liked your advise: "If you're writing for yourself, spell it any way you want. Just be consistent."

An important thing to remember is to know your readers. Write so they understand what you are saying. Don't use slang or expressions that are foreign to your readers. Don't try to use vocabulary that is not common to the intended readers. Use proper grammar and spelling, but don't try to be a perfectionist at the expense of the readers understanding.
Friday June 13th 2014, 11:53 AM
Comment by: TheErn (Bedford, TX)
Right on, Jeff...and more power to Rhonda H's Grammar Girl. (Note "H's" -- I would have gone with "ayches" prior to the lesson. Hmm, maybe.)
Friday June 13th 2014, 1:02 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
The reason I wouldn't use 'dos' now is because the word has something to do with computing. I am not sure what, but I know it used to mean something.

Besides that, seeing 'dos' without an apostrophe linked with 'don't' with one, looks awkward.

So I guess I'm one of the ones who will do it my own way. I'll try hard to be consistent.

When it comes to spelling, my now unsecret wish is for a letter to replace the schwa. Life would be less stressful! LOL
Tuesday June 17th 2014, 2:17 AM
Comment by: Anonymous
Thanks, "TheErn", appreciate it! Thumbs up!
Tuesday November 14th 2017, 10:48 PM
Comment by: JazzyFresh (OR)
I loved this article. I have had this problem before because I read so much and now I have a better understanding of my confusion! Thanks Grammar Girl aka Mignon Fogarty! Please write more of these awesome articles.
One more thing, Jeff F. I like your comments.
Wednesday November 15th 2017, 8:10 AM
Comment by: Kenneth P.
Goodness me! I'd forgotten we had this discussion. But, as my old age marches on, I've discovered I have to be more aware of do and don't. Don't do what you can't or shouldn't do but do what you should and can do.
Wednesday November 15th 2017, 11:47 PM
Comment by: Anonymous
Thanks JazzyFresh, appreciate it! Keep up the learning consequential to reading overmuch!

Kenneth P., me too! It's great to see people still commenting on them. I like your insightful epigram there, cogent and positive!
Thursday November 16th 2017, 12:49 AM
Comment by: Anonymous
Jane B, I concur with your preferred usage of "do's", contrasting the computer term of DOS, seeing how the latter would confound a reader, unless capitalized and used within a specific computer related example. By the way, DOS is a acronym for MS-DOS, Microsoft Disk Operating System.

I like your idea of substituting a letter for the schwa when it comes to spelling, thereby saving time and one's sanity! Not the inverted letter "e", but a letter easy to write and with clarification specific to the schwa word.
Saturday June 6th 2020, 11:09 PM
Comment by: Larry (IL)
I know stuff but l am slow on things like if some one ask me a quest l never got to anser it Mom did that is why l say what does that mean cuss if they have to known the ANSER fast l can not do it and learn stuff l would have to be showen like a computer l never had one so l do know but yes righing and stuff l do good

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