"The 80's" is a song made by Robbie Williams - Rudebox.

My question is what is the difference betwwen "the '80s" and "the 80's"? (what does it mean for the different positions of apostrophe?)

  • For as long as I can remember there have been opposing factions relative to the the use of "s" to pluralize items that are not conventional English words. Numbers, individual letters, initialisms, etc. It seems to me that the use of the apostrophe is dying out, but you still see it. And if you were to go back in time and claim that using the apostrophe is wrong then many 1950's-era prescriptivist linguists would be Pist. Besides which, song titles get a free pass -- they can use whatever they want.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 12 '17 at 12:11

the 80's is one of several examples of where apostrophes are or were used within plurals. Some of these are now completely dead in contemporary modern English (e.g. waltz’s was once acceptable because it was a loan word that ended in z, but that would not be acceptable today), and the rest are rather old-fashioned and increasingly not used. It's old-fashioned enough that I would recommend against it. See this answer for more.

'80s is making it clear that the 19 of 1980s has been elided. Generally decade names (80s, 90s, etc.) are easily-enough recognised without it, so this too is not as common as it used to be.

Since they are both forms found, albeit not so often as they once were, you might wonder why '80's is generally not found. As a rule even when apostrophes with plurals were more widely accepted than they are today, one would not use it with a term that already contained an apostrophe. So for example we had the spelling "do's and don'ts" where the first word used the apostrophe with a plural of a mention rather than a use of a word (yet again, not as often done today as in the past) while the last word does not use 's even though it is also a plural of a mention. Similarly, while '80s and 80's are both still found today, and were more common in the past, '80's generally was not.


Strictly speaking, "the 80's" is wrong. Apostrophes are used to denote possession or contraction (as JonHanna points out in the comments, apostrophes have other uses, but these are the only two that we need consider as possibly being relevant here).

The contraction here is from "1980s", so the correct form of the contracted version is '80s. 80s, without the apostrophe, can be seen as a less formal variant of this, but "80's" doesn't really make sense: the only time you would say "the 80's" is if "the 80" (singular) is a thing that can have possessions, and you're referring to one of them.

So, Robbie Williams' song title is grammatically incorrect.

  • 1
    I was reading usage of same and starting to think if Robbie Williams was right or wrong.
    – Rahul
    Sep 12 '17 at 9:28
  • 2
    O'Reilly is neither a contraction nor a possession. Qur’an is neither a contraction nor a possession. mus’haf is neither a contaction nor a possession.
    – Jon Hanna
    Sep 12 '17 at 10:11
  • @JonHanna proper nouns don't really follow any rules of grammar, they just are what they are. Sep 12 '17 at 10:26
  • No, there is a consistent rule in English that Irish names like Ó Raghallaigh are written with an O'. Also mus'haf isn't a proper noun.
    – Jon Hanna
    Sep 12 '17 at 10:29
  • (Or strictly, qur'an; while we're almost always speaking of the Qur'an when we use the term in English it would remain valid to use it of any recitation).
    – Jon Hanna
    Sep 12 '17 at 10:31

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