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I have a question related to already shortened words and their plural forms. As I have seen on this site and have found in the dictionary, words like mas and pas are the plural form of the shortened words ma and pa (as in mother and father). However, it occurs to me that were I to write this, in order to clarify the meaning of what I was trying to write (because if you are like me, you read mas and pas and did a double-take), I would write it as ma's and pa's.

Some words like cuz have a similar issue, although the pluralization makes more sense: cuzzes. Perhaps cuz's?

I know that in the pluralization of single letters there is some contention regarding whether there should or should not be an apostrophe (A's or a's versus As or as). "I got a lot of A's this semester." just looks better to me, although I have no grammatical backing for this. I'm not sure if this is the same for these types of words as well.

My question is this: Is there a precedent for using an apostrophe for words that are shortened to convey appropriate meaning, or is the convention simply to omit the apostrophe altogether and leave the word pluralized with an s?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Robusto, user66974, tchrist, Rory Alsop Sep 16 '14 at 8:38

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  • 2
    Yes, I have searched the site. The related questions came up as: pluralizing letters, plurals of acronyms, plurals of dates (years). Swan's PEU came up with nothing; google ngrams can't understand the query: ma's; COCA can't handle ma's either; and a simple google search is pretty poor in terms of a good resource on this subject. In short, yes. I have done my research. – Adam Sep 15 '14 at 4:51
  • The normal rule of applying an apostrophe to a possessive is ignored in the case of the "its", because of the confusion that would be created between whether "it's" was a possessive, or the contraction of "it is". I might agree with applying that principle and use an apostrophe to distinguish between all of the instances of the letter "i" in "Mississippi", and "a" in "Alabama" in order to better differentiate "i's" and "is", and "a's" from "as". As far as using an apostrophe to make the "mas" and "pas" less jarring to reader, you've lost me. If you want less jarring, use different words. – brasshat Sep 15 '14 at 4:59
  • Hi @EdwinAshworth, I took a look at that one, too, but it is not a duplicate as it specifically focuses on single letter pluralization, not about anything else. – Adam Sep 15 '14 at 14:05
  • The answer about whether do's, ma's and pa's are acceptable plurals (just about, no and no respectively) (and which I've quoted) appears there, given by JohnoBoy. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 15 '14 at 18:14
  • @EdwinAshworth, I see your quotation, and you are certainly correct, there is an entry in the answer of the linked question with a relevant answer. The question there, however, is specifically about single letter pluralization, so even though an answer is there, I don't believe this to be a duplicate. – Adam Sep 15 '14 at 22:41

Since you obviously did your research, let me help if I can.

  • Princeton Is Proposing to End Limit on Giving A's - NYTimes
  • M.L.B. Commissioner Bud Selig made a rare visit to the home of the Oakland A's - NYTimes
  • Cuz's of Sorts: North American Descendants of Gaelic Clan MacEachain, Volume 1
  • Rush initially talked conservative ideas to get the ma's and pa's to listen... Politico.com

So, Is there a precedent for using an apostrophe for words that are shortened to convey appropriate meaning?

If the NYT, books, and Polito can do it, the answer is yes. I think it looks less ambiguous and is easily understood in context.

  • Thank you for your answer! I think this is a fairly limited usage of the apostrophe to clarify pluralization, so I don't want to use this as a justification for a general case, but it is certainly enlightening to see it used in syndication. – Adam Sep 15 '14 at 22:49

I agree that A's written with an apostrophe looks more elegant, there is no ambiguity, and it's a fairly established praxis. However, if you're looking for a justification on its use, you could argue that A's is a contraction for "A grades".

As for "mas" and "pas" really? Adding the -S changes the pronunciation for me, without context I would not understand the meaning.

  • All the mas and pas met at the school fair. (looks ugly but it's comprehensible)
  • All the ma's and pa's met at the school fair. (clearer)

With the apostrophe "ma's" usually denotes possession likewise for "pa's".

Rachael Stirling: 'I should have asked my Ma's advice'

Daily Telegraph

The above means I should have asked my mother for some advice. You wouldn't interpret that sentence to mean that Rachael Stirling had more than one mother, if she did then I would punctuate it as "I should have asked my mothers' advice" rather than "mas's"

To answer the OP's question

Is there a precedent for using an apostrophe for words that are shortened to convey appropriate meaning or is the convention simply to omit the apostrophe altogether and leave the word pluralized with an s?

The plural of DVD can be written two ways 1) DVDs and 2)DVD's I've seen both forms. I prefer the first, it's clear, unambiguous and follows the rules of pluralization.


Judging from the number of downvotes there are a few who strongly disagree with me, whether the disagreement covers every aspect of this answer or just one or two points is unknown. I'm sorry that people feel so motivated to downvote without explaining why. I think I have presented a balanced viewpoint, there is no hard and fast rule concerning the use of apostrophes with shortened words. As an example consider the following

  • The Dos and Don'ts
  • The Do's and Don'ts
  • The dos and donts

They all have their supporters and detractors, in the end it comes down to personal taste unless you are writing a formal paper, in which case you need to consult the style manual recommended by that institution.

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