May I punctuate letters-as-letters and words-as-words in this manner (in lieu of italics)?

The professor said that Joel used too many 'why's, 'like's, and 'whereas's in his essay.

If we're using single markers (quotes) for this purpose, would the word 'whereas' be pluralized as 'whereas's or 'whereas'es? My vote is for 'whereas's (without the 'es' ending. Do you agree)?

And for letters and numbers (using this same method), are the following correct?

His 'y's look like '4's. His 'j's look like 't's.

I don't like this: 4s or 4's

I want to give strong emphasis to the individual letters and individual words (for the plurals) by using this method. Is it a viable alternative? I think the British might employ this technique.

Thanks for your continued support and guidance.


This overlaps with some questions, though I'm not sure it matches any fully.

In lieu of italics

In lieu of italics, use underline. It's an old convention that the way to indicate to a typesetter that something should be italicised is to underline it in the typescript, and hence in the days of typewriters, underlining meant "this would be italicised, if only I could italicise on my typewriter".

In lieu of underline then in some plain-text formats (e.g. plain-text email) many will understand the convention whereby /some text/ means some text and _some text_ means underlined.

That said, if you really can't use any of those, the pairing either single or double quotes, whether the open-close ‘’ and “” or the straight '' and "", will serve.

There is also a use where one uses an apostrophe to separate a mentioned word from a pluralising s, as detailed more fully in this answer, though as that answer states, this is now old-fashioned to the point of obsolescence though still sometimes found in how many write the set phrases "if's and but's" and "do's and don'ts", with the latter also demonstrating that the apostrophe was often omitted if it would result in there being two apostrophes close together.

I think the British might employ this technique.

IIRC, The New Yorker uses that style, though it has a rather idiosyncratic orthography in many ways, so it never really counts as showing a use as generally accepted.

British use was once the single-apostrophe use I mention above, but again, that is now extremely old-fashioned, bordering on obsolescence.

In all, if you are in a typographic pinch, then you can use the style you suggest, but you are much better off using italics if available.

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  • So would 'whereas's (not 'whereas'es) be acceptable to maintain consistency with the rest of the examples if they were all presented in the same document? – whippoorwill Feb 27 '14 at 15:07
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    Both forms are found. If I was forced to use such a style, then I'd favour 'whereas's over 'whereas'es, but the main thing is to apply that further rule consistently. Really though, unless you are forced into it, avoid this style; it is old-fashioned at best, and likely to cause confusion or people thinking you are wrong even if you can point to The New Yorker as evidence. (To some minds, especially so, since The New Yorker is strange in style in many ways). – Jon Hanna Feb 27 '14 at 15:17

Your idea regarding the sole use of an 's is correct; for all words which are not nouns and pluralized must take on a terminating 's, so as to avoid confusion or the undesirable misinterpretation of a spelling mistake: but's, what's, whereas's (known to NOT be a possessive apostrophe, due to the ADDED s, which is NOT to be added otherwise--in the case of possession, which clearly cannot function with said conjunction).

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