Tuesday Typos: A Common Punctuation Error

Grammar is a tough subject and one that few of us paid much attention to while in school. We were too young to have known that this stuff would be important when we grew up; we had enough trouble just being young!

How could we have guessed that as adults, we’d need to know how to write the correct word or how to use the correct punctuation, no matter which version of any language we grew up learning?

English – like most other languages – is somewhat different depending on a country’s version, which is why I always remind folks that my knowledge is based on the American style and may differ from what you know.

In terms of typos – a kinder word than “error” or “mistake” that suggests someone merely mistyped a word rather than screwed up – there are many kinds, but here’s one I see often.

Forgetting to use an apostrophe in abbreviations of years

Most writers who use English know that we can shorten phrases like “she would have” or “he is” by removing one or more letters, and inserting an apostrophe to show that something’s missing from the original form.

We know that “she would have” can be written as “she would’ve” and “he is” can be written as “he’s.”

But many writers probably have never stopped to think about the point of using it – that the original had MORE letters, and we can’t just drop them out without replacing them with something – which, by rule, is an apostrophe.

Are you with me so far?

Well, the same idea holds true for years (individual years, decades, or centuries) – in 1994, the 1960s, the 1900s – there are four numbers in each, and when we decide to remove the first two, we can’t just pretend they were never there!

We need the apostrophe in the exact place the first two numbers were, the same way we place it in words with missing letters.

So it’s either 1994 or ’94, the 1960s or the ’60s, or the 1900s or the ’00s.

Of course, depending on context, abbreviating a decade or a century might not work; without the first two numbers, there could be confusion if we are writing about more than one.

And yes: We are supposed to use the apostrophe, which is always the right single quote mark (’).

So the next time you want to abbreviate a year, decade, or century, just remember to use the apostrophe in front of the two numbers that are left.

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Susan Rooks
Susan Rooks
With nearly 30 years’ experience as an international workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication, creating and leading workshops in three main areas – American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills – to help business pros enhance their communication skills. She also leads one-hour LinkedIn workshops (Master the LinkedIn Profile Basics) via Zoom to help business pros anywhere maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations free of charge. As an editor, Susan has worked on business blogs, award-winning children’s books, best-selling business books, website content, and even corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented.

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  1. Hey, Jeff — sorry I missed this completely! You know I’d be happy to look at anything you write — and see what Grammarly suggests — any time. You know where to find me.

    I’ve used Grammarly a couple of times, and … I don’t honestly recommend it for folks who don’t already know the right answers; it’s far better for those who do and just missed seeing one themselves.

    Now, in terms of the period or comma with final quotation marks: The American system says we ALWAYS place periods and commas inside / before / in front of the final quotation mark. Weird, but it’s our rule.

    Now British English rules are different … but I do follow ours on that issue.

  2. Susan, love this! My big issue right now is the comma. I’ve been experimenting with “Grammarly,” and I find that all the conventions I thought I was taught are, well, wrong. I make the recommended changes, but they sure don’t feel right.

    And while I’ve got you, which is the correct placement of the period?



    I was taught the former construction, but I see the latter used in a lot of places.

    Thank you, oh wise one!