How to Write Decades Properly and Impress Your Friends
Grammar tips and lessons for a brain boost.
Look, let’s get one thing straight: I’m no grammar grouch. I love to break the rules for emphasis and intent as much as any other copywriter. What bugs me though, is when published “professional” writing makes egregious mistakes over and over again. The most common? Misplaced apostrophes when talking about a decade span.
Did you see the smoke come out of my ears a little? Well, it most certainly did.
Misplaced apostrophes in decades are EVERYWHERE—published articles, all over the web in posts, blogs, web copy, and even in everyone’s favorite (*gasp*) memes. It’s like the world goes all willy nilly when it comes to properly writing decades. It’s grammar anarchy, people.
There. Are. Rules.
You grew up in a specific decade and want to write about it. Is it written 1990’s, 1990s, 90’s, 90s, ‘90s, ’90s or some other Frankensteinian version?!
Well, never fear. Let’s get to filling your head with some grammarian knowledge you can use to impress your friends at the next happy hour. Let’s get this decade + apostrophe thing settled once and for all.
Apostrophes, generally speaking.
Let’s start with apostrophes in general. Apostrophes are most commonly used in contractions to indicate missing letters, and to form the possessive case (owning something) of a word.
That’s my cat’s dead mouse!
That’s: contraction of that and is
Cat’s: possessive case, the cat owns that dead mouse.
I don’t understand what that parakeet’s problem is.
Don’t: contraction of do and not
Parakeet’s: possessive case, that problem belongs to the parakeet.
Okay, so now that we have that cleared up, let’s get to this decade span issue, shall we?
Apostrophes and decades
The Wrong Way
An apostrophe should not appear between the numeral of the year and the added “s.” Decades don’t own stuff, so why you making it possessive? Omit. Omit. Omit.
WRONG: I grew up in the 1990’s and loved MC Skat Cat.
WRONG: During the 90’s I loved to walk to the store and buy mass amounts of AirHead candy.
WRONG: You might hate the 90’s but that was my jam!
The Correct Way
When speaking about a certain period of time with multiple years included in it—say, 1990 to 1999—then add an “s” and omit the apostrophe.
CORRECT: If I could travel back in time, I would go to the 1930s for sure.
WRONG: If I could travel back in time, I would go to the 1930’s for sure.
If you want to create a contraction (OMG one of the things apostrophes are used for! *squeal*), then you need to add an apostrophe to the beginning to hold the place of the omitted portion. (1990 à ’90s) And remember, the apostrophe should hug the missing numbers/letters, not those remaining.
CORRECT: The ’20s were a hell of a time to be a lush.
CORRECT: The hairspray industry loved the ’80s because you weren’t allowed to have bangs shorter than four inches tall.
You’re So Smart!
So there you have it. Now you’ll never flub up when writing a decade again! And, if worse comes to worse and you break out in a cold sweat trying to remember the correct form, just write it out. Can’t go wrong there.
The Cheat Sheet