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Do’s and Don’t's

“Do’s and Don’t's” is a popular phrase, but the punctuation of it seem to vary for “don’t's”. What should it be?




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"Dont's" makes no sense because the apostrophe for the contraction is missing.

The second apostrophe in "Don't's" is unnecessary.

I vote "Don'ts".

jeri September 30, 2007, 8:30am

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I agree. Apostrophe for contracted letter. No apostrophe for plural.

Ed September 30, 2007, 12:13pm

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Appended "s" without apostrophe is clear and unambigious.

N.b.: I originally entered "jamescfield at cooptel dot net" in the OPTIONAL Email field. This entry was rejected as invalid (even though it was optional). I used this subterfuge to make sure that only humans (as opposed to spam-bots) could use my Email address.

Comments etc. ?

jamescfield October 1, 2007, 8:55am

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In spite of what others have posted, I would say ...don't's and ...don'ts are both correct. Do's and don't's is the older, more traditional way.

for a more complete discussion of this, see my post at:

porsche October 3, 2007, 10:10am

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Why would you add an apostrophe for plurality? Why would you remove one for a contraction?

comrade October 9, 2007, 7:41am

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Comrade Smack is correct. It should be Don'ts, you do not add an apostrophe for plurality nor remove one for contraction.

Rincewind October 18, 2007, 12:32pm

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Rincewind, Comrade smack, you are right about not removing any apostrophes from the contraction part. However, using apostrophes to indicate plurality is definitely correct in some circumstances. The traditional rule for apostrophes has always been to also include using them for forming plurals with numbers, single letters, abbreviations or acronyms, and when pluralizing words where the word itself is used abstractly as a noun (which is exactly the case for do's and don't's). Recently, some have suggested that such use is old-fashioned, but it is still correct.

porsche October 19, 2007, 5:16pm

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Dos and don'ts is correct.

cf. CMOS 15th ed at 7.14, 7.31

Also, here:

Doug Brown October 24, 2007, 11:44am

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Ugh! Apostrophes for plurals makes my stomach hurt. I refuse to ever use them in such a fashion, no matter what is acceptable. Long live the '80s, not 80's!

Timbo October 26, 2007, 10:47am

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I guess that should have been "...make my stomach hurt." and not "...makes my stomach hurt."

Timbo October 26, 2007, 10:48am

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Yes, two apostrophes for "Don't's."

David Calman October 27, 2007, 12:37pm

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I agree with Timbo.
Adding apostrophes for pluralization is, in my opinion, an abomination.

Dredsina December 13, 2007, 1:17pm

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Right or wrong, the version I see most in print is "do's and don'ts". Perhaps this is because "dos" looks like Spanish for "two" or Microsoft's precursor to Windows.

Chris December 30, 2007, 1:14pm

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It should be Don'ts
beause it doesn't belong to the don't so the s doesnt need a '
its just plural so yoe need don'ts

Tash February 13, 2008, 3:17am

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(dos or do's) and (don'ts)'s'ts

So, "dos and don'ts" for ultra formal, defering to the first case in the dictionary as the more preferred one,

But, "do's and don'ts" LOOKS better on the page because it flows more naturally and logically.

lastronin February 18, 2008, 6:21am

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Why not avoid the ugliness of both of the solutions above by using a combination of upper- and lower-case letters: DOs and DON'Ts? This is both grammatical and inoffensive to the eye. Since the phrase is also usually a heading, the caps should be appropriate.

pablocity March 5, 2008, 3:33am

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Dos and Don'ts

crbrimer89 March 19, 2009, 10:32am

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Dos and Don'ts

tbaiju July 23, 2009, 1:54am

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The rule is "use an apostrophe plus s to form the plural of letters, numbers, and words named as words." 3's, i's, t's, do's, don't's. Don't's looks ugly, but it it technically correct, I think!

lissa December 16, 2009, 2:56am

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'Myrtle Beach Bum' is correct. The correct phrase is: Do's and don't's.

An apostrophe is used to indicate plurals of words.

Likewise you would say "Are there too many and's and but's at the start of sentences these days" .

dan.r.stevenson September 2, 2010, 3:57am

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Sorry, Daniel. You're dead wrong about using an apostrophe to indicate plurals (I notice you didn't say "plural's", so why would you use "and's" and "but's").

This particular phrase is a puzzler, with no felicitous rule that will satisfy everyone.

One might expect the plural of "do" to be "does", not "dos". Unfortunately, both constructions are easily misinterpreted. To make it even more confusing, "do" is a plural verb form; "does" is a singular verb form (unless used as a noun to indicate more than one female deer).

"Don't's" is simply wrong grammatically. However, it is tempting to use, if you have chosen "do's" as plural of "do" and want a parallel construction to complete the expression.

Simplest, and probably safest, is to do as pablocity suggests and use DOs and DON'Ts.

north60gypsy December 13, 2010, 7:21pm

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I didn't say plurals in general, as this, as you rightly point out doesn't require an apostrophe. Cats and dogs being an example.

However, when you’re describing "plurals of words" then you DO use an apostrophe. This is also the case for plurals of letters and numbers - something Myrtle Beach Bum correctly pointed out.

E.g. - how many c's are in the word cactus?
E.g. - how many 2's are in 2002?
E.g. - how many and's are there in: "The cat and dog were seen in the park and the street" - as a poor example.

You would say “and’s” and “but’s” in the context I described, as the phrase was:

“Are there too many and’s and but’s at the start of sentences these days”? - i.e., plurals of words.

You wouldn't say “plural’s” unless you are referring to the actual word "plural", rather than the plural of something.

Do's and Don't's is grammatically correct.

I trust this clarifies.

dan.r.stevenson December 23, 2010, 6:10am

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I like the capitalization out provided by PabloCity. But I have a related dilemma with an apostrophe, this time not a plural, but two possessives:

"Kinko's poor service was notorious in the industry."

The name of the business is "Kinko's" and at some point it is going to need a possessive of the possessive. I might rephrase the above sentence for something formal, but to represent speech? I definitely do not pronounce an additional [z] in this instance, but am I besmirching the good (or bad) name of Kinko's by ignoring its actual name and not writing Kinko's's, which looks atrocious. (The same could work for McDonald's.) December 24, 2010, 6:41pm

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The use of the apostrophe is for two main purposes: to show possession and to show contraction. It has become commonplace to use do's instead of dos because people insist it won't be understood. As someone mentioned, it could be confused with the Spanish two (dos) or Microsoft's pre-Windows (DOS). Yet, there is no real foundation in this fear. Context will dictate the meaning. Saying, "Yes, I will read the book you read" doesn't cause confusion.

Don't's is absurd. Do's has become an acceptable standard due to being consistently spelled wrong. Dos and don'ts is the traditional standard.

A's, B's, C's is wrong. So is 1's 2's, 3's. Or 40's (for age group) and 80's (for decade). It's As, Bs, Cs. It's ones, twos, threes (spell out numbers under 10), 20s (age groups, dollar bills), and '80s is correct for 1980s (also with no apostrope s). The apostrophe in '80s shows the missing 19 in 1980s.

This isn't an opinion I've made from seeing it on TV, in newspapers or in ads. It's stated as an editor who has a B.A. in English, magna cum laude. I'm not bragging, but stating my experience in hopes it helps.

Angie March 6, 2011, 5:57pm

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Well put Angie! Dos and Don'ts is correct. (Although my spell checker suggests Don't s!)

I would love to know where the inexplicable use of apostrophes in plurals has come from. We have a professional sign writer who has proclaimed, for all to see, that we have pizza's, camera's, patio's, DVD's and CD's for sale in this town. AAARRRGGGHHH!

Mark Wilkinson March 30, 2011, 1:23pm

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Angie: "A's, B's, C's is wrong. So is 1's 2's, 3's. Or 40's (for age group) and 80's (for decade)."

I think it's far less black and white than you suppose. Would you really write "there are two Is and two Us in the word ridiculous"? Or "there are two is and two us..."? The second version in particular looks, well, ridiculous.

What about changeable sign boards that come with upper-case letters and punctuation but no lower case? I think "HALF-PRICE CD'S" looks better than "HALF-PRICE CDS". If I was walking or driving past I might wonder what a CDS is.

Sometimes apostrophes for plurals can provide clarity, and in any case I think writing A's and B's is considerably less wrong than writing banana's or avocado's.

Regarding the actual question, I'd say that either "do's and don'ts" or "dos and don'ts" is fine. Or even DOs and DON'Ts. I'd steer clear of don't's which looks like apostrophe overkill.

Chris B March 31, 2011, 12:37pm

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One could also assume that Don'ts is the street term for donuts, as in, "I went out yesterday morning to get some dunkin' don'ts for my family."

Just havin' fun ;)

Jason December 12, 2011, 8:57am

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Guys, although I appreciate everyones persistence in squashing the incorrect use of apostrophes in plurals, we should remember the actual meaning of the word "apostrophe". It is *only* there to replace missing letters.

Its use to show possession is simply a result of using a single "s" for possession instead of older constructs.

Any other use, or declared "rule", is simply based on common usage. Of course, if we allow common usage to be the justification for any new rules, we might as well just put an apostrophe onto the "s" key of all keyboards, and call it a day...

JohnSP January 18, 2012, 8:16pm

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And yes, I *did* miss out that apostrophe on purpose (above)!

JohnSP January 18, 2012, 8:29pm

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I know there's a lot of resistance to using apostrophes in plurals, and that resistance is in reaction to the increasing trend of people doing just that. I think it's a unique trend that is becoming more popular thanks to the increase of technology in our culture (and language). For example, pluralizing acronyms without an apostrophe might just make it look like a word wherein the case has been mixed up. I think people might have this knee-jerk need to clarify that "CDs" isn't a word or acronym in its own right. Using an apostrophe to set off the plural "s" might not be grammatically sound, but it's serving a sort of emergency function, if that makes sense.
In this way, the phrase "dos and don'ts" has always been jarring to me. "dos" looks very much like it could be a different word entirely. I've tried some fixes, like italicizing "do" (and "don't", for the sake of consistency) but this feels like an awkward stopgap.
I'm just uneasy with the whole thing. I don't know what to do about it. Let's not overlook how interesting it is to see people creating their own avenues of expression!

Shane Davis February 7, 2012, 12:13pm

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As a medical transcriptionist and medical editor, the AAMT Book of Style is my reference, and it states: Use 's to form the plural of lowercase abbreviations, but no apostrophe following all-capital abbreviations.

rbc's not rbcs or RBC's

Use 's to form the plural of single letters and symbols, i.e., serial 7's.

For numbers, add s without an apostrophe. Exception: With single numerals, add 's:

She is in her 20s.
6's and 7's

p.smith May 16, 2012, 3:00pm

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So, we can pick our own poison for pluralizing "Don't" (I may just start using Don'tses.)

What about "Do's"? It's not a missing letter, it doesn't end in an S. It ends up being a pronunciation guide.

Chris B.: I like DOs and DON'Ts, but if I'm writing a headline in all caps, then "DOS AND DON'TS FOR WALKING IN NEW YORK CITY," it looks like I'm talking about an operating system.

KarenS July 12, 2012, 6:41am

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We live in a world of change and what was correct yesterday may not be correct today. I don't really think it matters how you spell do's and don'ts as long as the message is received correctly by the reader. It's like reading the IRS Code. There is usually an exception to the rule somewhere. Maybe it used to be "dos" until we had to deal with DOS. If you use do's just to help the reader understand that there is a list of what to do, then it's correct. "Does eat oats and mares eat oats and little lambs eat ivy." So the plural of doe is does and the plural of do is dos. Or is it do's?

BonnieRae July 20, 2012, 9:47am

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You do not use an apostrophe for plural - it is for possessive or contractions only. The "Do" does not own anything and it not a contraction. Therefore, it is so simple:

Dos and Don'ts.

That's it.

Johnny August 4, 2012, 10:20am

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Just to make it clear: if you write "Do's" that would mean "Do is". Since we are talking about more than one (plural) things to "Do", that would be spelled "Dos". I don't say that I have five "thing's" to do today. Why is this so hard? :)

Johnny August 4, 2012, 10:22am

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Generally the plural of word ending with an "o" is es. The use of a apostrophe is for possession or contraction. It therefore could be construed as do's uses the apostrophe appropriately to replace the missing "e". Don'ts is self explanatory.

GSB August 7, 2012, 7:15am

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Why not extend the phrase to "What to do and what not to do", or "To do and not to do", or "You should do this, You shouldn't do it".

Lura August 21, 2012, 3:57am

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p.smith......The AAMT Book of Style is American, so I wouldn't be putting any faith in it!

SpeakEnglandverydelicious November 21, 2012, 6:57pm

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Capitalizing both words is incorrect grammar. It doesn't matter if it looks more pleasing to the eye, it's still incorrect. Even for titles and headings, only the first letter of each word should be capitalized.

This is one of those special case scenarios that exact definitions fail to cover, ergo such confusion. Let's resolve this in a simple way that doesn't involve textbook definitions that somehow still leave us unsure:

For English, "dos" is not a word, so the apostrophe is needed.

Don't = do not. "Do nots" is incorrect - nots is not a word, so the apostrophe is also needed.

Just because people have always been oblivious to use "don't's" doesn't mean it's not proper use of grammar.

Do's and Don't's = correct
'80's = correct

Think Outside The Box January 22, 2013, 5:03pm

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Oh, and "dos" as plural can be contradicted with what Chris B pointed out: "there are two Is and two Us in the word ridiculous". You see, it can be argued for both sides. "Dos" as plural needs to be re-written in the dictionary because it lists "do's" as a noun. Someone got confused at some point.

Think Outside The Box January 22, 2013, 5:22pm

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It amazes me that no one in this thread has consulted the one truly essential authority here. The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition (7.13–7.15) requires:

ifs and buts, dos and don'ts, threes and fours, thank-yous, maybes, yeses and nos
the three Rs, x's and y's [with the x and y italicized for letters as letters, on the model of italics for words as words], the 1990s, URLs, IRAs, BSs, MAs, PhDs, vols., eds., BUT: p., pp., n., nn., MS, MSS

For any professional copy editor working in book publishing, that is likely to settle these issues, since U.S. publishers virtually without exception follow CMS, period. Magazine and newspaper publishers have different styles in many cases.

FYI, every publisher I have ever worked for requires: the 1980s, the '80s.

The use of the apostrophe to signal pluralization for plurals of coinages, letters, numerals, and abbreviations is not a question of grammar, but of typography. It is falling by the wayside; it is a dated convention. Originally intended to forestall confusion, it is now thought by most to cause it—as evidenced by the debate above.

Nonprofessionals (formerly non-professionals) may continue to debate heartily. The rest of us have jobs to do . . .

Copy editor February 5, 2013, 7:25am

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I think that don'ts doesn't make much sense, because whenever pluralizing a word that shouldn't be (like a verb), there should be an apostrophe before the s, thus indicating the pluralized verb. But, I have never seen any grammatically word with two apostrophes. Plus, you need the apostrophe for don't, so dont's wouldn't be an option. I say they are both correct.
1. It is completely possible that a word could have two apostrophes
2. Don'ts would be the default "right" way of writing it if don't's can't have two apostrophes
3. BUT, when you type it on an auto-correcting text box, program, etc., Neither of them have the little squiggly red line on the bottom, which tells you if a word is spelled wrong, or doesn't exist. Try it out!

Enticix June 11, 2013, 5:42pm

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Enticix: I've seen two apostrophes in a word on a few occasions, e.g. "shouldn't've" or "fish 'n' chips". As you say there's no reason why you can't have two apostrophes in a word. But I still don't like don't's.

The aversion to "dos" is simply because it looks like (and is) another word: Spanish for two, French for back, or one of those black pop-up screens with code in it. "Ifs and buts" causes no such problems (well actually "buts" is a French word but hey...)

As for decades, I prefer to dodge the apostrophe issue by writing (say) nineties.

Chris B June 14, 2013, 8:20pm

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In "Eats, Shoots & Leaves", the grammar book by Lynne Truss, she states that apostrophes are used to indicate the plurals of letters and the plurals of words:

How many f's are there in Fulham?
do's and don't's
but's and and's

I've done some googling and noticed that Telegraph newspaper journalists have used the expression do's and don't's and also dos and don'ts.

Personally I go with Lynne Truss - as dos is confusing for the reader.

Y Bosley August 6, 2013, 9:25am

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Perhaps it's time to blow my own trumpet -

Warsaw Will August 6, 2013, 11:34am

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Wow, very nice blog WW. But dont's? C'mon! (Unless it's deliberate, like "apostrophe's").

Chris B August 7, 2013, 11:50am

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@Chris B - Thank for the compliment. Well, you're the first person to notice the dont's, which I'm afraid is a mistake (I'd like to say misprint!) , and one which I seem to have repeated several times.I meant, of course, "Do's and don'ts". So thanks for pointing that out; I've now amended it and given credit where credit's due.

Personally I find 'dos' looks a bit strange without an apostrophe, and prefer to distinguish the first from, as well as your examples - DOS (Microsoft). But once you've done that, I don't find an extra apostrophe is necessary in don'ts. Probably totally illogical, but that's how I like writing it.

This is one of those areas where I think you have a choice, unless you are following a particular house style. I don't personally use apostrophes with capitals and decades, but have no problem with those who do.

What really annoys me, though, is those 'think-they-know-it-all' people who mock others for their 'apostrophe abuse', while themselves apparently being pretty ignorant of the (relatively short) history of the apostrophe. For example, at one time, the so-called greengrocer's apostrophe was quite respectable - this is from Alexander Pope's Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, quoted without comment in Dr Johnson's Dictionary - 'Comma's and points they set exactly right' - <a href=" Books</a>.

Warsaw Will August 8, 2013, 1:18am

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See my comment of February 5 above. From the professional copy editor's POV, there is essentially no debate: dos and don'ts, period, for US style today. Chicago 7.13–15. . . .

Copy editor August 8, 2013, 6:47am

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@copy editor - there's a whole English-speaking world outside that of professional copy editors, or of those writing academic copy for journals that follow CMOS rules. Outside the US, even. A published world, what's more: according to Google's figures, there are rather more books listed at Google Books with 'do's and don'ts' than 'dos and don'ts', including several in the 'for Dummies' series, and one intriguingly called the 'do's and don'ts of underwear'.

Those who are bound by CMOS, AP or individual house style guides obviously have to go with the flow, but the rest of us have a choice.

Warsaw Will August 9, 2013, 3:21pm

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mark oliver espartero August 17, 2013, 12:46am

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By the way, Chris B., CDS really means something: Credit Default Swap, one of those fine derivatives that Lehman Bros specialised in and that, despite the havock they caused, are still very popular with finance speculators :-)

Hans Ejj September 19, 2013, 12:01pm

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I am editing a book where I finally understand the phrase at the end of a contribution "...these topics could keep you busy after work, on weekends, and in between the infamous Honey Dos!"
I'm sorry, but I just didn't understand it until, now...on a third read. The author provided the manuscript with upper case Honey Dos, and guess I thought it was some sort of Mexican dessert, "dos" being Spanish for "two." Yummy! Clearly, Honey Dos should be lower case. Should it be honey-dos? honey-dooz?

Dave San Diego September 28, 2013, 10:56am

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Do's: there's a contraction - the 'e' is missing

Think about it:

VERB: watch - 3rd person singular "he watches"
NOUN: a watch - plural "watches"

The plural of a noun generally follows the same spelling rules as the third person singular of the verb in the present simple.

But with "do" that creates a pronunciation problem, so you need the apostrophe as the plural of the noun is a contraction.

Not to mention that fact that it helps avoid potentially embarrassing misunderstandings... I mean, the "infamous Honey Dos!" - is that a Bond girl or a porn star, because it looks like a name to me!!!

Darren Lee November 1, 2013, 3:20pm

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@Darren Lee - I use an apostrophe in do's myself, but that's a pretty whacky piece of deduction of yours. In all the stuff I've read about do's and don'ts, I wonder why nobody has come up with that one before.

The fact that plurals and 3rd person singular both end in s is pure coincidence; 3rd person singular used to end in th in some dialects - he hath, while plural s came from the Saxon genitive case ending - es.

What's more, there must be relatively few verb noun and verb combinations where they take the same form. OK, it works with watch / watches, cry / cries etc. But these are standard nouns. The whole point is that do and don't in this sense are not normally nouns. Just as p and q are not normally nouns, but we can have p's and q's. They are nominal representations of something else, verbs and letters.

In British English, however, there is another way to use do as a noun - for a party or social event - "Are you having a big do for your birthday?" And the plural is - dos:

"I just thought it must be someone from the Manor. They're always having dos and
things up there." - Lost Kitty, by Natasha Duncan Drake.

Nice try though. But you're rather closer to the mark with your last point.

Warsaw Will November 1, 2013, 5:12pm

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@Darren Lee - on second thoughts, perhaps not so whacky, as the two probably are usually the same (but I've never heard any rule about this), but it doesn't work when it comes to do and have: we talk about the "the haves and the have nots", not "the has and the has nots".

Warsaw Will November 2, 2013, 2:50am

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Wow, you guys really got into this. Thanks for all the conflicting views, it's clear as mud now!

LeeR March 19, 2014, 6:26am

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The correct form is "dos and don'ts." My biggest pet peeve is when people say, "do's and don'ts." They add an apostrophe to the first word, but not to the second word. So they are basically using two different rules at the same time. If you happen to think words like that need an apostrophe, at least put the apostrophe s in each word and not just one word. Off the top of my head, the only pluralized word that needs an apostrophe is when you are talking about your grades on a report card as straight A's. This is only to differentiate it from the word "As."

Carl45 March 22, 2014, 7:45am

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@Carl45 - Sorry to be the cause of your biggest pet peeve, but in this case those of us not bound by a style guide have a choice. As for using one rule in one word and not the other, it's partly to do with aesthetics - don't's just looks damn odd (what other word has two apostrophes?), and partly to do with the fact that don'ts doesn't look like any other word, whereas dos does (dos = parties, DOS etc). And thirdly it's more idiomatic.

So some of us will just keep going our idiosyncratic way, not believing in any one 'correct form'. In any case some dictionaries allow this -

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has this: "dos and don'ts (also do's and don'ts)",
Merriam-Webster: "do, noun, plural dos or do's"

However I've just had a surprise - the apostrophe version is marginally more popular in AmE books, while the apostrophe-less version is significantly more popular in British books. And at the British National Corpus, there are eighteen examples of "dos and don'ts" but none of "do's and don'ts".

American books -

British books -

Judging by the examples at Google Books, this expression started to be used in the 1890s.The number of verifiable results for that decade are:

do's and don'ts - 18
do's and don't's - 7
dos and don'ts - 5

Warsaw Will March 22, 2014, 10:26am

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I vote for Don'ts, because the contraction can also be interpreted as "Donuts," and I like Donuts.

freethelemmings April 8, 2014, 4:31am

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Yes     No