Mind Your Ps And Qs Or Your P’s And Q’s?

I hope you can settle this dispute. I teach high school and the cheerleaders painted a banner for the hallway. It reads, ‘Lady Q’s drown the opposition.’ ‘Q’ is short for Quarriers; the town is known for its quartzite quarry. I maintain that there should not be an apostrophe after ‘Q.’ After some research online, in the school library and a couple of textbooks, we were unable to come up with a conclusive answer. Can you resolve this?


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11 thoughts on “Mind Your Ps And Qs Or Your P’s And Q’s?

  1. I’m a copyeditor, and I follow the Chicago Manual of Style whenever possible. It says, “Capital letters used as words … form the plural by adding s” (example: the three Rs), but “To avoid confusion, lowercase letters … form the plural with an apostrophe and an s” (example: x’s and y’s).

    So “Lady Qs” it is!

  2. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s correct to use an apostrophe to indicate plurals of alphanumeric characters, e.g. “There are four S’s in Mississipi”.

  3. This is much too late to help, but since your blog comes up fairly high on Googling for “Apostrophe Abuse”, here goes.

    The MLA Style Manual for academic writing, used as the standard reference in psychology and several other fields, says:

    A principle function of apostrophes is to indicate possession. They are also used to form contractions (can’t, wouldn’t), which are rarely acceptable in scholarly writing, and the plurals of the letters of the alphabet (p’s and q’s, three A’s). § 3.4.7

    On the other hand, MLA style forbids apostrophes in the plurals of acronyms like “CDs” and dates like “the 60s”.

    (I just violated MLA style there — it would have us put punctuation inside quotation marks even in phrases in which there’s no logical reason for internal punctuation. Apparently my tastes are British, since that drives me NUTS.)

    The Columbia Manual of Style says apostrophes are sometimes used with digits and letters of the alphabet to indicate a plural (Reference).

    Apparently the CMS is diametrically opposed to MLA on this issue.

    So the answer is: unfortunately, in this one case, it varies, so you should simply be consistent.

    I wrote a webpage on The Care and Feeding of Apostrophes that may help teach some students proper apostrophe usage and (more importantly) convince them that it really matters. This one rule, however, I skipped, since there’s disagreement about it. I think I covered everything else.

  4. As has been pointed out, there is no definitive answer. It depends on what style guide you follow.

    There may be a general tendency to move away from the use of apostrophe’s in forming plurals for words ending in s.


    PS. Apostrophe’s was a little joke.

  5. "There may be a general tendency to move away from the use of apostrophe's in forming plurals for words ending in s."

    Huh? When did a mere plural, ending in 's' require an apostrophe?

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