I've found questions here at ELU related to the meaning of the expression (I'm clear on that), but this is about the best way to punctuate the expression in the title. Possibilities:

a. It's almost ready. I just need to go through it once more to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s.

b. It's almost ready. I just need to go through it once more to dot the i's and cross the t's.

c. It's almost ready. I just need to go through it once more to dot the is and cross the ts.

a. shows what I would naturally do.

b. shows what appears to be most common (used in posts on this site as well as in Wikipedia), but it using that apostrophe for plural sticks in my craw. I did find some support for this, here, but this also suggests using the apostrophe for letter grades (see c. below).

c. seems terribly confusing, although it follows the convention of pluralizing letter grades (which are not so confusing because they are capitalized).

So... which is it?

marked as duplicate by tchrist, choster, phenry, A E, andy256 Dec 9 '14 at 9:27

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Apostrophes were once used in a lot of plural cases (I've said more on this here) and while some such cases are now completely obsolete, some are still used to varying degrees.

The case of pluralising a single letter is perhaps the strongest survivor of the pluralising apostrophe (and indeed even in the case of pluralising letter grades, as despite your claim one can indeed find "She got five A’s and two B’s" and similar uses today*). It avoids a tendency to consider the forms ts as a word and even more so is, since there of course is already a word is. (Also the English words as and us and abbreviations like vs).

So, considering that apostrophes for plurals perhaps shouldn't stick in your craw quite as much as it does, (i.e. fine as a personal preference, but not "incorrect"), and considering the various points you've made, there's no perfect answer as to "which is it?" and all three are found in different styles of correct contemporary use.

I'd add the possibility of italicising the letter:

I just need to go through it once more to dot the is and cross the ts.

Which is my personal preference when markup is possible, but not the sole "correct" choice, either.

*Though there are style-guides that are half-way between the two, in that they require plurals of capitals to have no apostrophe but plurals of lower-case letters to have an apostrophe, and so would have "Taking care to dot the i's and cross the t's meant she got As in all her exams".

  • Thanks kindly Jon. I just enjoyed your not so brief history of the apostrophe.... – Rusty Tuba Dec 7 '14 at 18:25
  • I really must do a re-draft on it. I link to it quite a bit because a few questions touch on one aspect of it or another and there's no point repeating oneself, but I it means I spot typos and bad repetitions each time that I could live with when I wrote it but are beginning to make me cringe. – Jon Hanna Dec 7 '14 at 18:28
  • If one didn't use apostrophes, how would one describe the act of resolving all the C's, H's, and O's in the chemical equations for e.g. the combustion of methane? The equations don't contain any cesium (Cs) , Hassium (Hs), or Osmium (Os). Indeed, even if one wanted to add atoms of some two-letter elements (e.g gallium), I would think Ga's would be clearer than Gas. – supercat Jun 19 '15 at 20:29

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