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I am making a list to my children telling them what are some of the things they should do and shouldn't. Under one side is "do", and the other is "don't".

Would I write "do's" and "don't's"?

Cause the two apostrophes look horrendous, and I'm not sure that is correct or not. How is it written?

0
19

The following nGram suggests that dos and donts, do's and don'ts, and do's and don't's are all used, but it appears that do's and don'ts takes the cake.

nGram

A quick search suggested that capitalizing all but the s is also fairly popular:

DO's and DON'Ts

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  • 8
    "dos and don'ts" isn't far behind your top in ngram, and I believe would be more correct: 's in both cases would stand for possessive, not plural.
    – SF.
    Dec 17 '12 at 8:41
  • Agree that the 's shouldn't be there, it should be Dos but this looks weird. Capitalizing fixes the weirdness, but I don't like capitals either!
    – Josh M.
    Jul 7 '15 at 19:21
  • 2
    Actually this is missing the most correct spelling. And indeed, as @SF said, it's not far behind (and even overtook in the latest years) the top result. Full and correct ngram here: goo.gl/OXSRWh (re-click "search")
    – haylem
    Mar 23 '16 at 10:29
  • @SF Some authorities say that the use of the apostrophe in a very small set of pure plurals (do's and ex's being members) is acceptable. In addition, when a word is used 'as a word' (eg "You have too many and's in this sentence"), the usual convention for plurals is to add apostrophe-s after the italicised word in question. Feb 26 at 16:07
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DOs & DON'Ts

that would be appropriate.

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    @AAT That's not a greengrocer's apostrophe; those are always considered incorrect. Sep 28 '17 at 12:49
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Do's and Don't's

seems correct but because of the plethora of apostrophes in the latter word, I prefer

Do's and Don'ts.

You can see a nice discussion about this subject on this blog post (When apostrophes go bad: Do's and Don'ts).

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  • It's interesting that that blog post thinks you should put the apostrophe in dos simply because it's confusing. It's a plural, putting a grocer's apostrophe in is just ... well ... wrong. (And don't's is just absurd. I'm not even going to start).
    – Loquacity
    Jun 6 '11 at 1:40
  • 4
    @Loquacity: Would you consider the hyphens incorrect in "Bob's suit was re-pressed after his sofa was re-covered"? It is more important that good writing avoid confusion that it follow particular "rules" of construction, especially since the whole purpose of such "rules" is to suggest which constructs are likely to be the clearest and least confusing. As As, Is, Os, and Us form words when followed by s's, I would regard their non-apostrophe plural forms as being likely to cause confusion. A's, I's, O's, and U's pluralized using apostrophes seem much clearer.
    – supercat
    Oct 20 '12 at 16:15
5

Although "Do's" and "Don'ts" seem to be the popular usage, it would be correct to write "Dos" and "Don'ts" for a couple of reasons:

  • It is a plural form of the word you are trying to express, not possessive;
  • It is not a contraction either — the contraction "do's" would mean "do is";
  • "Don'ts" is the correct plural form of "don't" so "dos" would be the correct plural form of "do".
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    I would suggest that the syntactically-proper form would arguably be «‘do’s and ‘don't’s», but that ends up a visual mess. The mark between the "o" and "s" doesn't serve so much as an apostrophe, as a closing quote which survives after the other quote marks are elided.
    – supercat
    Apr 30 '14 at 22:16
4

"Things to DO and NOT DO".

"Do's and Don'ts" seems to be preferred, but let's be honest it's not an elegant construction either way.

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  • 1
    Yes, good reasoning there...
    – Thursagen
    Jun 5 '11 at 21:28
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I personally don’t like subjective arguments based on how an expression seems or feels. Statistics is better, but it doesn't eliminate the case of millions of flies that can't be wrong.

There are several style guides for written communication which I think should be consulted first and foremost, and there appears to be two documented options:

do’s/don’ts

From The elements of typographic style, section 5.4.3 Omit the apostrophe from numerical plurals [1, p. 88] (emphasis mine):

In the interests of typographic hygiene, unnecessary hyphens should likewise be omitted. […] Apostrophes are needed for some plurals, but not for others, and inconsistency is better than a profusion of unnecessary marks. Thus: do’s and don’ts; the ayes have it but the I’s don’t; the ewes are coming but the you’s are staying home.

For what it is worth, Apple Style Guide (accessed 2021-02-26) also suggests do’s/don’ts format and uses it in the guidelines for UI design and for brand and photography.

dos/don’ts

From The Chicago Manual of Style [2] (emphasis mine):

7.14 Plurals of noun coinages. Words and hyphenated phrases that are not nouns but are used as nouns usually form the plural by adding s or es. (If in doubt, consult an unabridged dictionary like Webster’s Third New Inter­national, which indicates the preferred inflected forms for most nouns, including all of the examples below.)

ifs and buts
dos and don’ts
threes and fours
thank-yous
maybes
yeses and nos

[…]

7.30 Contractions. In contractions, an apostrophe normally replaces omitted letters. Some contractions, such as won’t or ain’t, are formed irregularly. Colloquialisms such as gonna or wanna take no apostrophe (there being no obvious place for one). Webster’s lists many common contractions, along with alternative spellings and, where appropriate, plurals. Note that an apostrophe—the equivalent of a right single quotation mark (’ not ‘)—is always used to form a contraction (see 6.117).

singin’   gov’t   ’tis (not ’tis)   dos and don’ts   rock ’n’ roll

P.S. Note that the majority of style guides underline that a typesetter's apostrophe (’) must be used and not a “lazy” typewriter apostrophe (').

References

  1. Bringhurst, R. The Elements of Typographic Style, 3rd ed.; Hartley & Marks: Point Roberts, WA, 2004. ISBN 978-0-88179-205-8.
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed.; University of Chicago Press: Chicago; London, 2017. ISBN 978-0-226-28705-8.
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  • There are some style gurus who believe that exs and dos (as in works dos) are worse than ex's and do's. Feb 26 at 16:12

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