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I'm comfortable with the '80s as a contraction of the eighties, as in the years from 1980-89.

How do I correctly use this when it is in a position where it looks like it is either an adjective or needs a possessive apostrophe?

An example sentence with the options I've identified this far:

  • '80s' music (music of the '80s), or
  • '80s music ('80s being an adjective describing the music).

What do you think?

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3 Answers

After having a quick browse around Google Books:

  • "80's music" has about 4,290 results and the first page has 20 x '80s music but only 4 x 80s music.

  • "80s music" has about 509 results and the first page has 21 x 80's music but only 1 x '80's music.

Roughly speaking then, from most common to least common:

  • '80s music
  • 80s music
  • 80's music
  • '80's music

Neither page had any examples of '80s' music or 80s' music.

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Thanks Hugo. I instinctively opted for the least common use but am now happy to go with '80s music, as apart from popularity of use I can now grammatically justify it. –  Jim Nov 15 '11 at 22:18
    
Scrolling through those two links reveals there are in fact only 361 results for the first, and 215 for the second. But in any case Google Books is haphazard in its treatment of apostrophes. Those two different sets of results are by no means accurately separated into those with and those without an apostrophe after the "0". All style guides I know of say not to include that particular apostrophe, and I personally would never put one in either of the other two possible positions. –  FumbleFingers Nov 15 '11 at 22:22
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Most use I've heard of that type varies based on whether or not the speaker is referring to a single decade.

I definitely say use '80s' music to refer to music from 1980-1989. Music of the '80s is not common usage.

However, when referring to multiple decades, one would usually say something like music of the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

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You raise a special case of a general question. The same choice arises elsewhere. Is it, to take an illustrative example, parents evening or parents’ evening? The first sees parents as an adjective modifying evening. The second sees parents as in some way being the ‘possessors’ of the evening. There seems to be a trend towards omitting the apostrophe in such cases and it’s one which I applaud. So, although '80’s music and '80s music will both no doubt be found, I’d put my money on the latter outliving the former. (I’d also be happy to omit the initial apostrophe and write simply 80s.)

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To illustrate @Barrie's point, consider the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Melbourne Writers Festival. Note that one uses an apostrophe on Writers and one doesn't. These are people who deal with words for a living and they can't decide! Personally I prefer the adjective modifier option and say ditch the apostrophe in '80s music. –  Snubian Nov 15 '11 at 22:03
    
Thanks Barrie. I had also been wondering about the other special cases you give an example of, so it is good to have a grammatical explanation to justify that phenomenon. I will go for '80s music given that popular use seems to dictate the way. –  Jim Nov 15 '11 at 22:12
    
@Snubian perhaps it is also a bit of regional variation- when in Melbourne last year we took a photo of the old Mechanic's Institute building in Fitzroy because it seemed an awfully big building for one mechanic. The apostrophe was set in stone so not about to be removed –  Jim Nov 15 '11 at 22:50
    
@Jim: Another of the oddities of apostrophe use is in the title of the clothing company Lands' End. –  Barrie England Nov 16 '11 at 8:31
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