Do’s or Dos? What Do You Compare With Don’ts?


We constantly see apostrophes used incorrectly to indicate plurals. But do you say Do’s or Dos for the opposite don’ts?

Different style manuals will disagree on plenty of topics. I stumbled across a post by a familiar grammar authority involving the use of an apostrophe when it comes to the plural form of the word do. So should it be do’s or dos?
No, we’re not talking about does here. Picture a list of rules or guidelines. You might informally call them a list of “dos or don’ts.” (Or, depending on your style guide of preference, you might call them “do’s or don’ts”.)

All grammar enthusiasts can identify certain errors that set them off. One of my biggest pet peeves involves the mistaken use of the phrase “due to” when the writer meant to say “because of.” But another of my biggest pet peeves involves the constant misuse of the apostrophe, particularly when one is attempting to make a word plural.

The plural of book is books, not “book’s.” You make sister plural by adding a simple S at the end, never an ‘S. The apostrophe-S turns sister into a possessive, not more than one sibling.

So when we come to that list of things you should do and things you shouldn’t, and we assume there are more than one of each, how would we make it plural?

Are we talking ‘dos and don’ts’ or ‘do’s and don’ts’?

Like many grammatical issues in writing, it might depend on your preferred style manual.

Over at her website, Quick and Dirty Grammar Tips, Mignon Fogarty recently tackled the question.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, you don’t add an apostrophe when you make the word do plural, she said.

But the Associated Press Stylebook says you do add the apostrophe.

In my real job, I have to follow AP Style. So just to maintain my sanity, I follow AP Style here. I make a handful of exceptions on this site on a case-by-case basis.

If AP Style dictates that I’d have to write do’s and don’ts, that would have to be an example of my breaking with AP Style tradition.

One of my issues with do’s and don’ts — aside from the basic fact that you don’t use apostrophe to make words plural is the inconsistency with the errant apostrophes in that example.

Fogarty points out in her post as well that it looks wrong to make do plural as “do’s” if you’re not going to make don’t plural as “don’t’s.” But then “don’t’s” with the double apostrophes surrounding that poor T looks just as ridiculous.

I understand the reason some might prefer the apostrophe for the word do. Without it, it looks like DOS, an old computer term that stands for disk operating system and is pronounced like “daus.” Adding the apostrophe, though grammatically incorrect, forces your eye to interpret do’s as a word you’d pronounce like “dooz,” which is how you’d pronounce the plural of do in this case.

But the incorrect use of the apostrophe is incorrect use.

Sorry, AP, I’ll have to side with the Windy City on this one.

Which looks better to you: Do’s and Don’ts, Dos and Don’ts, or Do’s and Don’t’s?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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