Are apostrophes needed in this phrase?

The whys and the hows

I searched for duplicate questions, but the closest I found was in regard to words inside quotes.

  • 3
    If you feel you need them, by all means use them. If not, forbear. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 18:44
  • 1
    What John said. There's no universally-accepted position with such things. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 18:56
  • Not sure about whys and hows right now, but here's a related question for dos and don'ts.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 19:32
  • Both are plurals, not possessives or contractions. Plus, neither is likely to be mispronounced or misinterpreted because of the presence of the plural -s. Could you explain on what basis you think they might need apostrophes?
    – nxx
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 23:14

4 Answers 4


I would say no, but I think I would put them in quotation marks. 'The "whys" and the "hows" of apostrophes aren't easy to understand.'


Actually I was searching for something similar today, and I came across this.

I think it's quite similar to what you're asking :

When forming the plural of words and hyphenated phrases that aren’t nouns but are used as nouns sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t:

  • I want no ifs or buts.
  • Here are the dos and don’ts of blogging.
  • I’ve written 25 thank-yous.


I’m tired of all his maybe’s

Hope this answers your question.

  • That's an impressive and comprehensive article, thank you for the link. There does seem to be something wrong with "maybes", but I'm not 100% sure what -- unclear how to pronounce? I'm having an issue with the instruction that "sometimes you do and sometimes you don't" -- not very actionable. Is there a formula or rule at work here? Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 10:47
  • no problem, about pronunciation I think it's pronounced "may-bee-z" and I suppose: use the apostrophe with "maybe's" and the rest of the words don't like "buts" and "ifs".. glad the article helped you
    – Kmelkon
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 7:01
  • What is the basis for the author of your linked article giving maybe's an apostrophe but not the others? Maeve says "sometimes you do, sometimes you don't" but provides no sort of justification or rule for determining this.
    – Rykara
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 22:07

In English, apostrophes indicate either possession or omission.

An example of possession might be

The cat's bed,

Or, in the plural,

The cats' bed.

(A good example of an omission is in a contraction, such as isn't for is not."

But an apostrophe is not often (correctly) used it English to mark a plural of a regular noun. (However, decades or centuries (80's, 90's, 1500's), and some brands and abbreviations (M&M's, sometimes Lego's) may have an apostrophe; it depends on what style you adhere to.)

But, to answer your question directly, there should be no apostrophes in that phrase. It's correct as-is.

NOTE: Sometimes you will see an apostrophe before a final -s that does indeed mark a plural. Ben Franklin (if I recall correctly) and his contemporaries would do this. There are also technical contexts where it might be done (although more often with past tense verbs (e.g. malloc()'d)).

  • 3
    "But an apostrophe is never (correctly) used it English to mark a plural." That's not true. 80's, 50's,. M&M's, etc. (EDIT: after a search it seems more contentious than I thought. 90s seems to be generally preferred to 90's but there are style guides that allow the latter usage.)
    – badroit
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 18:58

The rule on apostrophes on plurals applies if the word in question is a bona fide word as a plural. My dictionary shows the plural of "why" with a simple "s." Ditto other words such as "wheres" "hows" "buts" "wherefores" "ands" and "ifs" but, oddly, no "therefores."

  • Two problems with this answer: (1) there's no "rule" on use of apostrophes in these situations, it's a matter of style, and (2) whether "rule" or style guide, it would apply to all words, whether "bona fide" or not. Hence shouldnots in preference to mustnot's. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 22:14
  • A good answer already posted here includes a link that references the Chicago Style Manual. See also the Oxford Style Manual 2016, which says "Do not use an apostrophe to make a plural, even with a word/phrase that is not usually written in the plural or which appears clunky" and "To clarify something which will look odd if an s is added, consider italicising it or placing it in single quotation marks." Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 22:23

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