Are you making a list of 'Dos and Don'ts'? You might be wondering how to spell it. The apostrophe usage can lead to confusion, and you'll see it spelled many different ways. But which one is correct? Let's find out.
There's no short answer to this one, as the spelling you use will depend on your style guide or your editor's preferred style. The important thing is to choose a style and stay consistent with it.
English grammar can be confusing at best, with so many different style guides and individual preferences. And what with the natural evolution and increased flexibility of language, certain spellings are acceptable now that might not have been in the past.
The case of 'dos and don'ts' is a particular conundrum because it involves using apostrophes.
Let's have a quick review of apostrophe usage in the English language.
Apostrophes are traditionally used for two purposes:
Apostrophes are often mistakenly used to indicate plurality, but this is a mistake. To make a plural noun, you simply add an 's' with no apostrophe…
Most of the time.
What is less known about apostrophes is that there's often room for a personal decision as to whether or not one is needed.
To illustrate this, the Oxford Companion to the English Language says you can use apostrophes with single letters. Take the following famous phrase, for example:
Dot your i's and cross your t's.
Here, apostrophes are used for the letters' i' and 't,' which doesn't fit the conventional use since they neither denote possession nor a contraction in this context. However, if you were to forgo the use of apostrophes, this could lead to confusion.
Dot your is and cross your ts.
The letter' i' now looks like the word 'is,' while the 't,' well, just looks odd.
So When Should You Use Apostrophes? Again, this is open to interpretation and depends on your preferred style guide. I personally agree with using an apostrophe, even in non-traditional ways, if it can eliminate any doubt about what I'm trying to say.
This mostly crops up with individual letters. Some would argue that would also apply to decades (the 1990's) or family names that end in 's' (the Harris's), while others will be irritated by your use of apostrophes in these cases.
To make matters worse, style guides disagree. Or perhaps you can view this as a positive thing: you get to pick the style that makes the most sense to you.
Overall, a good rule of thumb is to stay consistent. Pick a style and stick with it.
In conclusion, there are several different ways you could spell 'dos and don'ts':
Dos and don'ts ✅
No additional apostrophe is used, only the contractive apostrophe in 'don't.'
Do's and don't's ✅
The necessary contractive apostrophe in 'don't' is used, as well as the two apostrophes indicating plurality for 'do' and 'don't.'
Do's and don'ts ✅
This one makes the least sense to me because the apostrophe use isn't consistent: the 'do' uses a plural apostrophe, but the 'don't doesn't. However, this is still accepted in some style guides.
The following are incorrect:
Do's and dont's ❌
The apostrophe between the 'n' and 't' in 'don't is needed, as it marks the contraction.
'Dos and donts' ❌
Same reason as above.
Now that we've clarified the appropriate use of apostrophes and the various ways you can spell 'dos and don'ts,' we will look at some examples of this phrase used in context.
I'm going to use the spelling 'dos and don'ts.'
In today's class, we'll cover the dos and don'ts of wearing color.
Please check the organization's handbook for a list of employee dos and don'ts.
Read this article on the dos and don'ts of job hunting before you send in your application.
These dos and don'ts don't really resonate with the audience we're writing for.
There are a few dos and don'ts I'd like to go over before we enter the facility.
So there you have it: apostrophes can be pretty versatile and adaptable; you simply need to know when you can get away with it. Here's a summary of what we've learned:
If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy our growing database of Grammar Rules articles.