Back in the 80s…or 80’s?

I’ve been to visit a few museums recently and checked out their current exhibitions. Interestingly, two of them had video game exhibitions with lots of interactivity. And among all the hands-on stuff were a few signs giving facts and figures. And lots of the figures had to do with time periods.

Each exhibit handled writing time periods (1990s, 1890s, etc) differently; one doing it the correct one, one doing it the incorrect way. And if you’re someone like me who likes to find out about history and social change, then these things stick out (and it’s not just because I’m a pedant).

So which is correct?

  • 1800s or 1800’s
  • The Roaring 20s or the Roaring 20’s (though you’re more likely to write it out in full: The Roaring Twenties)
  • 1990s or 1990’s
  • 1430s or 1430’s

While checking my facts for this post, I learned something new. Previously, I would have thought there was a contextual basis for using the apostrophe before the s, such as when writing about something belonging to a decade.

An example might have been: “The 1990’s fixation with hypercolour t-shirts led to the development of fluorescent headbands that glowed in the dark.”

It turns out though that this is not the case and apostrophes are personae non grata when it comes to writing about time periods (centuries and decades). See? Always learning.

This certainly makes things easier.

So what does this look like?

Here are a few made-up examples to illustrate:

In the 1800s, army officers used to wear bowler hats when going into battle.

The 1430s belief that the Earth went around the sun lasted right through to the 1560s.

Video games have been around since the 1760s but not in the form you now know them.

All clear now? When it comes to writing about a time period, leave out the apostrophe. It’s not needed, it takes up space, and it irritates museum-goers (and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them).

Rule of Thumb
When writing about decades, in any sense, leave out the apostrophe and treat it as a normal plural.

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