Can this omitting of an apostrophe be justified?


Would be interested to get your views. 


Photos (1)
Original Post
E D posted:

Can this omitting of an apostrophe be justified?

Hello, E D, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

In your view, what is the intended meaning of the sign? Are you sure that it is not intended to advertise that there are doctors and surgery at that location?

Thank you David. 

I suspect the intention is to show it’s a doctor’s or doctors’ surgery. 

To answer your second question: no I’m not. :-)

It would be interesting to find out if there’s more than one doctor at this surgery...

E D posted:

I suspect the intention is to show it’s a doctor’s or doctors’ surgery. [. . .]

It would be interesting to find out if there’s more than one doctor at this surgery...

Hello again, E D,

I am not familiar with the phrase doctor's surgery or with the phrase doctors' surgery. In my experience, surgery is always associated with one doctor or more. There being no other kind, the addition of the "possessor" is unnecessary.

But perhaps I am wrong. Maybe there is a kind of surgery that is not performed by doctors, or a type of surgery location that is not associated with one or more doctors. In that case, such a phrase, or such phrases, could be useful.

It could be that doctor's/doctors' in the phrase doctor's surgery/doctors' surgery is a descriptive possessor like cow's/cows' in cow's milk/cows' milk. In that case, of course, we eliminate the possibility, e.g., of its being goat's milk/goats' milk.

It is worth noting that even if doctors surgery is intended to be understood as a grammatical unit in the sign, there is still the possibility of a compound-noun interpretation. Compare: cow milk/cows milk; a writers association.

I did experience a grammatical coincidence related to this thread today which gives me some hope (and dismay) that doctor's surgery is a phrase that is used by some people. I read the following in a poem by Walt Whitman (here):


"Beyond thy lectures learn'd professor, / Beyond thy telescope or spectroscope observer keen beyond all mathematics, / Beyond the doctor's surgery, anatomy, beyond the chemist with his chemistry, / The entities of entities, eidolons."

- Walt Whitman (1855)


Last edited by David, Moderator

Hi, E D and David,

This does not answer the question about the lack of the possessive case, but I think the picture belongs to some place in England. In British English, "surgery" is equivalent to "office" in American English. This definition has been taken from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

sur‧ge‧ry /ˈsɜːdʒəri $ ˈsɜːr-/ ●●○ noun (plural surgeries)
3 [countable] British English a place where a doctor or dentist gives treatment SYN office American English

Ah, is this a USA based forum?

Yes, the photo shows a London (UK) location. 

Would it be correct in the USA to write Doctors Office?

E D posted:

Ah, is this a USA based forum? 

David, our moderator, is American, and so are Betty Azar and Stacy Hagen, the authors of the grammar series after whom this forum is named.

E D posted:

Would it be correct in the USA to write Doctors Office?

Grammatically, it would be more correct to say either "Doctor's Office" (one doctor) or "Doctors' Office" (more than one doctor). However, on a sign like the one at issue the apostrophe can be omitted mainly in the second instance (when there is more than one owner), which might actually be the case.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

Thanks to all who replied (I don’t seem able to ‘like’ the replies).

Gustavo, your “Doctor’s Office” does confirm my opinion on using or omitting the apostrophe. I’m pretty sure that is the exact same grammatical situation here in the UK for “Doctor’s Surgery”. 
Yes, as I hinted before, there may or may not be more than one doctor at the surgery.

I’ll let you know if I ever find out. :-)

Grammatically, there is nothing standing in the way of "Doctors Office" or "Doctors Surgery" being deemed correct, since each may be analyzed as an attributive noun (or compound noun) construction, whereby a doctors office is an office for doctors; however, such an analysis does stand in the way of a complaint about missing apostrophes or ambiguity concerning how many doctors are involved, since there is unambiguously a plurality on that analysis.

You are right, David. I merely focused on the possessive meaning and on the habit of ommitting apostrophes on signs especially when plural nouns are involved. If we google images of signs reading "Doctors Surgery" or "Doctors Office," we'll find several examples of the absence of the apostrophe, i.e., of cases where the plural noun is either used attributively (in which case the absence of the apostrophe is grammatically correct) or of cases of plural nouns where the meaning is possessive and the apostrophe is merely missing because it looks typographically unnecesary after the "s" (which the intended meaning is, we'll never know):

In other (more "contextualized") cases where the meaning is clearly possessive (not descriptive), the apostrophe will tend to be used:


Photos (6)
Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that , yes, omitting the apostrophe in Doctors Surgery can be justified. :-)

What about the the apostrophe in this photo’s caption?

Surely it’s not used to indicate a possessive form?




Photos (1)

I beg to differ. 

Perhaps this is a British ‘rule’, but an apostrophe is never used for the purpose of plural. Certainly not for decades either.

It is used in decades but only to replace the part that’s left out. ‘40 to denote 1940 for example.

The possible  exception is for one letter plurals or one digit number plurals, just to make it visibly clearer. 

For instance A’s or 9’s. 

Even then it’s not necessary to use the apostrophe. 

E D posted:

Perhaps this is a British ‘rule’, but an apostrophe is never used for the purpose of plural. Certainly not for decades either.

Style guides present differing views on the issue. While some agree with what you say, others don't, for example:

Words into Type, third edition (1974):

In referring to decades, the sixties or the 1960's is generally preferred (not '60's'60s60's, or 60s; the last form is used occasionally for ages of persons).

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (1999):

decades should usually be given in numerals: the 1990'sthe mid-1970'sthe 90's. But when a decade begins a sentence it must be spelled out.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

When to Form a Plural with an Apostrophe

By Maeve Maddox

background image 14

This reader wants to know why we write 1980s and not 1980’s.

I understood that making text entities with non-letter characters into a plural form, you separate the s from the term with an apostrophe – 1900’s, Jones’, Smith’s, or Bang!’s.  So, why no apostrophe with 1980s?

A lot of writers share this reader’s understanding that non-letter characters are pluralized by adding apostrophe s.


Alas, indeed. That pesky apostrophe raises a lot of blood pressure for writers of English.

I can’t really answer the reader’s question. What I can do is lay out what the Chicago Manual of Style says about when to use an apostrophe and when not to. And it has a lot to say. Here are only some of the rules this style guide offers.

Don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize a proper name or other capitalized noun:
Many Pakistanis have immigrated to the U.S. (not Pakistani’s)
I’ll be occupied for the next three Thursdays. (not Thursday’s)
The Jeffersons live here. (not the Jefferson’s)

NOTE: The CMS suggests that if you want to pluralize an awkward name like Waters or Rogers, you may want to reword the sentence to avoid writing the Waterses or Rogerses. (or Maddoxes?)

Don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize a title:
I have three Madame Bovarys and five Animal Farms. (Type the title in italics and the s in Roman face.

When forming the plural of words and hyphenated phrases that aren’t nouns but are used as nouns sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t:
I want no ifs or buts.
Here are the dos and don’ts of blogging.
I’ve written 25 thank-yous.
I’m tired of all his maybe’s.

DO NOT use an apostrophe to form the plural of capital letters used as words, abbreviations that contain no interior periods, and numerals used as nouns:
the three Rs.
the 1990s
lengthy URLs

NOTE: For the abbreviations p. (page), n. (note), and MS (manuscript), the plurals are pp., nn., and MSS

And for you scientific types, special rules apply for the plural of SI symbols:

No periods are used after any of the SI symbols for units, and the same symbols are used for both the singular and the plural. Most symbols are lowercased; exceptions are those that stand for units derived from proper names (A for ampere, etc.) and those that must be distinguished from similar lowercased forms. All units are lowercased in their spelled-out form except for degree Celsius (°C).

For those of you who, like me, hadn’t heard of SI symbols, you’ll find a list here.

DO use the apostrophe to form the plural of an abbreviation that combines upper and lowercase letters or has interior periods:
The department graduated five M.A.’s and two Ph.D.’s this year.

NOTE: If you leave out the periods, you can write MAs but you’d still have to write PhD’s.

DO use the apostrophe to form the plural of lowercase letters:
Mind your p’s and q’s.

DO NOT use the apostrophe to form the plural of capital letters:
What the CMS actually says is
Capital letters do not normally require an apostrophe in the plural.

One could write a sentence like this without confusing a reader:
You need to improve the formation of your Ts and Zs.

But one might be tempted to reach for the apostrophes with a sentence like this:
You need to improve the formation of your Ss, Is, and Us.

And finally—DRUM ROLL–our reader’s question about using an apostrophe with non-letter characters:

DO NOT use an apostrophe to form the plural of a number:
The 1920s were noted for excess.
I bowled two 300s and two 238s.

Source: Chicago Manual of Style, paragraphs 7.9, 7.12, 7,14, 7.15, 7.16, 7.65, 9.59.


I will look into it a little further but I’m quite convinced the English curriculum (for UK schools) will have the near exact same rules as above. 

I think generally the apostrophe is there to indicate something missing. 

1960 becomes ‘60

The dog his bone becomes The dog’s bone.

My mother has gone shopping becomes My mother’s gone shopping. 

An apostrophe is not used to form plurals. 

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.