Now, several years later, I'm still studying grammar books; I'm still finding new things. Occasionally I hope to post my discoveries here in hopes that people who read this blog will learn also (or be amused at the oddities of our language).
Here's my first discovery: Apostrophes CAN help form plurals.
This does NOT work on everything (*cough cough* Facebook people): "The goat's ate out of my hand," or "My brother's are going to a Tim McGraw concert tonight." Those examples are not correct. After all, why complicate a simple plural by adding an apostrophe? "Goats" and "brothers" are much easier.
Because of the huge misuse of the apostrophe-s combination, I've been afraid of applying it to any non-possessive circumstances. I'm glad I was wrong.
This is the rule, according to The Copyeditor's Handbook. An apostrophe followed by an s can indicate the plural form of an "abbreviation that has an internal period," a "nonitalicized lowercase letter," and a "word for which adding s alone would cause confusion."
That might sound like another language to grammar-phobes, so let me give examples.
First, "R.S.V.P.'s are quite necessary to gain an accurate head count." The apostrophe is OK because the abbreviation "R.S.V.P." has multiple periods within it. I can't think of very many abbreviations like this that you would want to make plural, but if you ever do come across one, that's what you do with it.
Also, "Please dot your i's" is more clear with the apostrophe than without (that's how we know the word is "i's" instead of "is.")
Other words need an apostrophe to keep the reader from becoming confused. The author of The Copyeditor's Handbook uses the example of "do's," which looks much more baffling as "dos." "Dos" isn't even an English word.
These rules might not change your life, but they have altered mine. Plurals are a frequent issue in writing. Learning these rules about the use of the apostrophe in plurals -- it makes a huge difference in my work. I'm excited for the chance to apply my new knowledge.
I wonder what I'll learn next.