On "Do’s and Don’t’s"

Do’s and Don’ts of Office Romance

This headline has been on cnn.com since this morning.

I’m always surprised when I see errors in stories on cnn.com and people.com, and even after hours pass, they’re not corrected.

No matter what you think about using an apostrophe or not, whether you believe that Halle Berry is known for her fashion “dos” or fashion “do’s” (she ALWAYS gets it right!), you have to admit that the sentence is wrong because only one uses an apostrophe before the S.

I’ve been looking it up everywhere, trying to find a few sources, but I can’t find much information out there.

According to Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, you should include the apostrophes.

According to the AP Stylebook, you should not.

I have no idea which one is right.

I’m a bit wary to trust Lynne Truss because she’s British and many of the rules that she describes in the book are only used in British English (using punctuation outside quotation marks, for example).

Also, I’m a bit wary to trust the AP, because while I use that as my usual guide, I know that they follow some weird rules and it’s not the be-all and end-all.

Let’s consider this part one of a series.

Let’s consider whether or not to use the apostrophe.

Points of consideration:

–single letters get an apostrophe for the plural; double letters or acronyms do not
–if using multiple instances of words (he used too many “ums” in his speech), an apostrophe is not used

What do you think?


11 responses to “On "Do’s and Don’t’s"

  1. I believe firmly in the AP style book. It could be because I used to work in a news room. I just don’t see why we need apostrophes to make things plural.

  2. I agree with narges. However, I do not know if others would agree or disagree that these self-referential terms should be italicized.

  3. This is one of my pet peeves as well and I tend away from the apostrophe. However, you do run into the odd word that will become another one – in this case On Dos and Don’ts could be read as On Two and Don’ts!

  4. I definitely think that, in this case, the apostrophe should be included. That makes the word “do’s” (as in the opposite of “dont’s”) instead of “dos” (like “hairdos”).

    Or maybe I’m way out in left field?

  5. How about doing away with the phrase all together? What about “Got an office romance? Recommendations here,” or, “Learn about etiquette for office romance.”

    I think the phrase itself is the problem, and replacing the phrase negates all need to consider its grammatical implications.

  6. I’m with you, Kate, I tend to think the apostrophe should be reserved for indicating possession (“he was his father’s son”) and omission (“it’s a beautiful day”.) However I do have to reluctantly concede that there are cases where it may be used in other cases to provide clarity.

    For example, after numbers: “he was born in the 70s” .. or “the 70’s”? .. or “the ’70s”? None of them are entirely satisfying to me as a grammar purist but I don’t see any better alternatives. And what about “she was dressed up to the 9’s”? Apostrophe needed or not?

    I think that, in the case of “do’s”, the justification for the apostrophe is clarity — the shortness of the word “do” and its trailing vowel make it hard to read when pluralized. “dos” just doesn’t look right; you want to pronounce it “doss” or “dose”. By that argument, though, you don’t need the second apostrophe in “don’t’s”.

    So, although it goes against my grain, I think I might have to take the stance that “do’s and don’ts” is the correct usage.

  7. I don’t know whether the usage I was taught is relevant here, as I’m British and was taught by a very old-school english teacher, but it has always been my understanding that apostrophes should be used only in contractions or to indicate the possessive. The problem under discussion here relates essentially to colloquialisms, which I was taught should properly be enclosed in quotation marks (normally single quotation marks) to indicate that the word or phrase in question was a colloquialism. Suffixes were to be added after the closing quotation mark. Examples: The crowd was ‘ooh’ing and ‘ahh’ing. He understood the ‘pro’s and ‘con’s of the situation. By now she had learned the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s of office life.
    I admit, the construction looks somewhat strange when typed, as most type-faces don’t distinguish between an apostrophe and a single quotation mark. Doubtless, the question is purely academic in any case, as the general public will continue to either scatter apostrophes like confetti or ignore their existence altogether, despite Kate’s admirable work.

  8. The Oxford Companion to the English Language states that the apostrophe is standard in examples like these:
    do’s and dont’s

    Clearly there is some acceptable variation in how to use the apostrophe.

  9. There are some instances when you use an apostrophe for plurals, even in the AP Style — A’s and B’s, for example. Years don’t, though — the 1980s (or, simply, the 80s) were crazy.

    Yeah, dlipkin, I wouldn’t mind if we purged the expression from formal writing. I never liked it that much.

    Sylvia, you make some great points, but sometimes it’s tough to tell which rules are strictly British and which rules are American!

  10. exurgencySpectaculrrr

    Looks like this topic is pretty well covered — I just want to inject one other point. Many grey areas like this don’t strictly have a “wrong” and “right” – that’s why various style guides advise differently.

    Especially in these sorts of unusual circumstances or edge cases, I think the paramount consideration must always be clarity.

    More than strict adherence to rules, the goal of language is to convey information.

    Thus, when a general linguistic rule interferes with a specific instance of communication, then that rule is no longer serving its purpose, and is best abandoned in favor of clarity (at which point, the issue becomes strictly stylistic and varying opinions may prevail).

    And a perfect example of this is the infuriating issue of the serial comma. For some inane reason, AP Style eschews the serial comma (that is, the last comma in a list: “He ate beans, cabbage and carrots.”).

    Ostensibly, this is for the crucial savings of print-space, but if AP is so devoted to that dubious aim, why does it still cling to the old-fashioned and erratic abbreviations for state names (which are nearly all longer than the two-letter postal codes)?

    I think it’s easy to demonstrate that omitting the serial comma damages clarity. For example, imagine a contract willing an estate to three people: “My entire estate is willed to Bob, Lisa and Mary.”

    This is ambiguous. Legally, Bob might have a case arguing that half the estate goes to him, and the other half is split evenly between Lisa and Mary.

    Conversely, “My entire estate is willed to Bob, Lisa, and Mary,” makes it unambiguous that the estate is to be divided equally three ways. (And in full disclosure, that is not an original example – I’m paraphrasing that from another style manual. I can’t remember which, but I think it’s the Chicago Manual of Style.)

    Personally, I think the AP manual is convenient for being short, and prevalent, but it is also very imperfect and not appropriate for all contexts. In any case, when a specific style is not mandated (e.g., by your employer) I think “clarity” should be your guide.

    That’s my 2 cents…well…make that more like a buck-fifty, perhaps. 🙂

  11. I have to agree that AP is hardly the end authority for usage and grammar. I much prefer the Chicago Manual of Style because it is significantly more thorough in its explanations and more logical in its reasoning, such as with the serial comma. Another great example of why the serial comma is necessary is the amusing, though perhaps apocryphal, story of the author who dedicated her book to “my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

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