If you’ve ever written about the history of a brand, product, or technology, you’ve probably had to figure out how to make a number plural. Although it may seem pretty simple to figure out how to make words plural, numbers may leave you feeling a little bit stumped. You know that you usually make words plural by adding an “-s” or “-es” to the end of a word, but it feels weird to do this to a number. For example, it feels odd to write that “email become popular in the late 1990s” or that “the diver received all 8s” on her final dive.” And you know what people say about following your gut – you should do it.

So how do we make a number plural?

The Convention for Making Numbers Plural

Well, this is one of those cases where you shouldn’t follow your gut. Why? Because your gut probably tells you that English is a tricky language with lots of exceptions, so why would the rules for making numbers plural be the same as the rules for making words plural? Because of this, your gut would probably tell you to make numbers plural like this:

  • “Email first became popular in the late 1990’s”
  • “The diver received all 8’s on her final dive.”
  • “They social committee decided on a ’20’s theme for the holiday party.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it), this isn’t quite the right way to make numbers plural. It may be hard to believe, but for once, the major style guides (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, and AP) have decided to go easy on us and let us use the same conventions for numbers that we use for words. (Shocker, we know.) So just like we make abbreviations plural by adding an “-s” or “-es” to the end of the abbreviation, we make numerals plural by adding as “-s” to them.

This means that we would write the sentences above like this:

  • “Email first became popular in the late 1990s.”
  • “The diver received all 8s on her final dive.”
  • “They social committee decided on a ’20s theme for the holiday party.”

Note that you use the same method regardless of whether you’re writing a four-digit year (e.g., “1990s”), an abbreviated form of a decade (e.g., “the ’20s”), or a number representing a score (e.g. “8s”). Leave the apostrophe out and just add the “-s.”

When to Use Apostrophes with Numbers

Of course, just because we don’t use apostrophes to make numbers plural doesn’t mean that we never use them with numbers. After all, we can’t let those apostrophes feel left out. So when do we use them?

We use apostrophes with numbers when we need to indicate possession. For example, if we want to write about the worst storm of 2012 on the Atlantic Ocean side of North America, we might write this:

  • “Hurricane Sandy was 2012’s most destructive Atlantic storm.”

Similarly, if we wanted to write about the top 10 tech trends of 2016, we might write this”

  • “Here are 2016’s top 10 tech trends.”

In these sentences, we’re not making 2012 or 2016 plural. We couldn’t do this even if we wanted to because there is only one year 2012 and one year 2016. Instead, when we include an apostrophe we’re indicating that something belongs to or is associated with these years. This is why we could also write these sentences like this:

  • “Hurricane Sandy was the most destructive Atlantic storm of 2012.”
  • “Here are the top 10 tech trends of 2016.”

In sum, when it comes to making numbers plural, you can treat them like regular words: just add an “-s” to the last digit. However, when you need to make a number possessive, add an apostrophe before the “s.”
Curious about other common grammar errors that creep up in content? Check out our post on why you almost never need to use the word “utilize.”
Need to make a good impression with your marketing content, funding proposal, or admissions essay? We can help. Get an instant quote here.

Inpression Editing | Online editing, copywriting, and coaching |

How to make numbers plural
Tagged on:                                                 

3 thoughts on “How to make numbers plural

  • June 1, 2020 at 9:09 am

    Based on your blog, 20s theme should really be 20’s theme since 20 is possessive adjective describing theme in this case

  • September 10, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Is there any disputing the apostrophe rule with numbers. It’s clear when the examples are wrong isn’t it?

    • September 10, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      It may not be the toughest style convention to grasp, but we see a lot of people struggle with the difference between plurals and possessives. And even when people do understand the difference, they sometimes get thrown off when they come across something that doesn’t seem like a typical word (e.g., an abbreviation or number).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *