The Correct Use of Apostrophes in Dates

Tue, May 31, 2011


Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States of America, and coincidentally I was fortunate to spend several days last week visiting memorials and museums in Washington, DC.

The National Museum Of The American Indian was particularly impactful for me. Besides all the vitally important information on display, there was also some great typography! (All the museums had great typography — I encourage everyone to really notice it when visiting museums, since their curators seem to take extreme care in getting it just right.)

The example below caught my eye because of its perfect representation of how apostrophes should be used when typesetting decades of time:

I’ll admit that incorrect use of apostrophes in dates is a pet peeve of mine, but only because it interferes with communication. I love this example of correct use, because it shows that you NEVER use an apostrophe before the “s”, and you ALWAYS use a true apostrophe before a truncated date (’20s). The reason is purely logical: an apostrophe represents either missing letters or a possessive (i.e. won’t, or Jim’s), and is NOT used for plurals (i.e. NOT 1910’s).

Note also that the apostrophe is a true apostrophe, which always curls clockwise. (The same as as a closing single quote.) Unfortunately, some software will format this kind of apostrophe with an incorrect “opening” single quote, which curls the other way.

Fortunately, QuarkXPress is intelligent enough to recognize this use of an apostrophe and will format it properly when Smart Quotes are turned on in Preferences.

The Smart Quotes feature kicks in when you import text, or when typing in QuarkXPress. It’s also available in the Import dialog when you’re importing a text file:

However, if you copy and paste text from a text file, and the text contains “straight” quotes, those quotes are not converted into curly quotes.

But here’s a great trick for converting all the “straight” quotes to curly ones:

Just perform a simple Find/Change (Edit> Find/Change) and replace all single quotes with single quotes, and all double quotes with double quotes. QuarkXPress will analyze each occurrence and apply the correct curly quote for you! (I guess that’s why they call it “Smart” quotes…)

Here’s an additional time saver: if you tick the “Layout” checkbox, QuarkXPress will replace all the apostrophes and quotes throughout your entire Layout. Otherwise, it just corrects them in your current story.

While this sort of typographical detail may seem unimportant to those who don’t understand it, many of your readers are painfully aware of it and will judge your work as sadly ignorant if you don’t pay attention to it. And you shurely don’t want your client’s or reader’s to think your ignorant! ;-)

This post was written by:

- who has written 1638 posts on Planet Quark.

Jay Nelson is the editorial director of, and the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly. He’s also the author of the QuarkXPress 8 and QuarkXPress 7 training titles at, as well as the training videos Quark includes in the box with QuarkXPress 7 . In addition, Jay writes regularly for Macworld and Photoshop User magazines and speaks at industry events.

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4 Responses to “The Correct Use of Apostrophes in Dates”

  1. Marek Says:

    Great! i didn’t know that.

  2. Linda Says:

    Thank you for this Jay. Incorrect apostrophe use, especially on simple plurals, drives me crazy! It shurely does. ;-)

  3. Jay Nelson Says:

    Linda: Shurely you jest! (kidding) For me, it’s just a matter of sloppy communication. You don’t want your readers to work harder than necessary to understand your message. It indicates a kind of disrespect for the reader. (IMHO)

  4. Henry Says:

    A pet peeve of mine is those who go on about “correct” and “incorrect” when something is a typographic convention. When I went to school we were all taught to write 1960’s, etc. The change to omitting the apostrophe is a quite recent one. It is a logical change too, I grant you, but older people doing it the way they were taught when they were kids shouldn’t be blamed for it. Nor will the peevology alter all the old books that were published using the older conventions.

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