The Grammarphobia Blog

Pajama games

Q: Please, please, please explain to me why every dictionary shows the abbreviated version of pyjamas to be p.j.’s and Pj’s and other whackadoodle versions that ALL INCLUDE APOSTROPHES! What is going on here? There is no possession implied in the abbreviation. How can this be? It is driving me crazy and I will NOT accept it any way other than PJs or pjs or even p.j.s. I will sleep without them if this goes on!

A: Calm down, and don’t jump out of your pajamas. Here’s the lowdown on nightwear, plurals and otherwise, courtesy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary:

“pajama”; “pajamas”: the standard American spelling.

“pyjama”; “pyjamas”: the standard British spelling.

“pj”; “pj’s”: the standard singular and plural abbreviations.

I can see that you’re bothered by the apostrophe in the plural abbreviation. But many, many style books and grammar guides (including mine) recommend adding an apostrophe with the plural of a small letter in an abbreviation to make it easier to read.

Without an apostrophe, the “s” in the plural abbreviation looks like part of the principal term. Imagine trying to pluralize the individual letters a, i, and u without using apostrophes: as, is, us. They’re much more readable as a’s, i’s, and u’s. No possession is implied.

Now keep those pj’s on, and go to sleep!

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