I don’t know who first started using an apostrophe to pluralize or when, but it has become more common with the use of social media. I cover the subject when I teach grammar and business writing. Writers Write post memes and articles about it, as do all other writers’ blogs and newsletters.
I am going to cover it as well because it really is simple: Never use an apostrophe to pluralize anything. The one exception is when combining uppercase and lowercase letters, as in “PhD’s.” But, I never teach it because I would rather writers forget there is an exception if it means they will correctly use the apostrophe at all other times. Besides, you could write “PhDs” and still be correct.
Correct Apostrophe Use
Apostrophes are used for only two reasons–to show possession, and to form a contraction. That’s it. Whether a word is plural will affect where you put the apostrophe, but that is the only cause for variation.
Pluralizing a name is very simple. Add s most of the time. If the name ends in s, sh, ch, z, or x, add es. Unlike nouns that end in y, you do not change the y to i and add es to pluralize a name. You want to keep the name as intact as possible, so adding s (or es) is sufficient.
Examples: James becomes Jameses, Hall becomes Halls, and Barry becomes Barrys. (Yes, that last one will be marked as wrong by most word processors, but it is correct, nonetheless.)
The above examples are correct whether the name is a first name or a last name, whether you are dealing with three men named James, or a family whose surname is James. Waylon Jennings was wrong when we sang, “We’ve been so busy keeping up with the Jones…” in Luckenbach Texas. It would have been correct to say “Joneses,” but that wouldn’t have rhymed nor been as melodious.
Pluralizing Proper Nouns
Pluralizing proper nouns follow the same rule as all other names. It doesn’t matter if you are discussing months, restaurants, days of the week, or national monuments. Do not use an apostrophe to make a proper noun plural.
Example: January becomes Januarys, March becomes Marches, and Saturday becomes Saturdays.
Now, there could be some question when a proper noun such as McDonald’s or Hardee’s already has an apostrophe in its copyrighted name. The rules, if strictly followed, would make the two restaurants McDonald’ses and Hardee’ses. You could write them this way, too, if you wanted, but it will look silly and not read well. A quick perusal of McDonald’s entire website reveals something very telling. They went out of their way to avoid ever writing McDonald’s itself in the plural form. Instead, when they have to speak of multiple locations, they write “McDonald’s restaurants.” I suggest you do a little research and take the company’s cues (provided they make good grammatical sense) in such situations.
Other Overlooked Plurals
Remember the one rule: Do not use an apostrophe to pluralize anything.
Write about a list of “dos” (not do’s) and “don’ts.” Write about the 1960s, or a student who gets As. No apostrophe should be used to make any of these plural. There are times you would right something like the 1960’s as a possessive when speaking of something specific to that era, but unless you truly intend to make something a possessive noun, do not use an apostrophe.
My goal in writing about grammar rules is not just to give you the rules and examples, but to present them in a way that makes them easy to remember. If you have questions on how to remember certain grammar or spelling rules, please use my contact form and I will write a blog about it so that everyone can benefit.