Forming Contractions

Good morning to you on May 18, 2015! Today’s grammar checkup involves a basic punctuation rule: using apostrophes in word and date contractions.

Most of us know that we form contractions of words — usually to convey an informal  tone — by taking out one or more letters of a word and putting an apostrophe where those letters would normally be. Right?

In order to make sense of those shorter words, we must place an apostrophe where the letters would normally be.

For instance

Cannot = Can’t * Does not = Doesn’t
Would have = Would’ve * I will = I’ll
She is = She’s * You are = You’re * It is/ It was = It’s
Will not = Won’t

Of course, if there were any justice in the world — or consistency — will not would turn into willn’t, wouldn’t it?

So, we see how the rule for creating contractions works, right? But did you know that the rule is the same when we create contractions of dates? Oh, yes. It is.

Let’s say you’re writing about a magical time for music: the 1960s. First of all, there’s NO contraction being formed when you write 1960s, so there’s NO apostrophe in that expression. Really. Leave it off. Please. Yes. Leave it off.

But sometimes we create a contraction of a date — whether it’s a decade like the 1820s, the 1920s, or the 1990s — or a century like the 1700s or the 2000s — or a single year like 1715, 1915, or 2015.

We MUST place the apostrophe where what we took out used to be.

If the original expression was 1960s music, what we leave off in the contraction are the first two numbers (19). So following the basic rule of placing the apostrophe where other stuff used to be, we write ’60s music.

1960s music = ’60s music

1950s film stars = ’50s film stars

1850s homesteaders = ’50s homesteaders (be very sure you have first created the proper context for the contraction)

Class of ’12 (without the apostrophe, it says there were 12 students in the class)

I’ve been teaching American grammar (punctuation and usage) to business professionals just like you for 20 years, and I have seen many writers struggle with this rule. Most of the time, they remember the word contractions, but darn few even know about date contractions. Well, now you’re ahead of the game: you know.

Feel free to spread the word.