Writing has significantly evolved over time. While they didn’t exist in ancient times, 14 punctuation marks now exist, each with their own purpose in making a piece of writing more understandable. However, as useful as punctuation is, it can also be a source of confusion. For instance, many bachelor’s degree graduates wonder which is correct: bachelors or bachelor’s?
Mastering proper punctuation is crucial in honing one’s written skills and expertise in grammar. In turn, how you use grammar can affect various aspects of your life, including your educational achievement and career prospects.
This guide, though, will explore something a little simpler: the age-old head-scratcher on the correct usage of the words “bachelors” (plural noun) and “bachelor’s” (singular and possessive). The difference between the two words will be discussed as well as their origins. Also included in the discussion are guidelines on grammar and style rules.
It has been documented that Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote “Canterbury Tales,” was the first person to use the word “bachelor” in the year 1386 (Eschner, 2017). The origin of the word “bachelor” can be traced to the Medieval Latin “baccalarius,” which is someone of low rank in the feudal hierarchy. As with other words, the term “bachelor” evolved and began to be used for persons of subordinate position in other social systems. Eventually, the word “bachelor” made its way to the university to refer to those holding an undergraduate or preliminary degree, which also signifies that the holder is not considered a full member of the university.
Originally used in the 1300s to mean a young man or a young and unmarried knight, the word “bachelor” was eventually used to refer to junior members in a guild, and later on, adopted in the university as someone with a junior status in academics. In higher education today, “bachelor” is equal to a first-level or preliminary degree. The bachelor’s degree used to be the lowest level of education in colleges and universities, but today that would be the certificate and the associate programs.
The word “bachelor’s” refers to the degree awarded by a college or university for the completion of four years of undergraduate study. The bachelor of arts and bachelor of science are the most common types of bachelor’s degrees. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by United States colleges and universities grew 28% based on National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data.
In today’s economy, a bachelor’s degree is a necessary educational qualification for many jobs. Having a bachelor’s degree also provides higher earning potential compared to those with less than four years of educational qualifications. Earning a bachelor’s degree also qualifies a student to pursue advanced studies. From being a term associated with an inferior position, the word bachelor has evolved into a status symbol in today’s society.
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers
Which is the correct term, bachelors or bachelor’s? Is there a difference between these two words?
The confusion between the words “bachelors” and “bachelor’s” is the reason behind one of the most common grammar mistakes that appear often in resumés and is also one of the reasons why recruiters throw away job applications. Apostrophes, which is used in the word bachelor’s, is also listed as one of the most common words with punctuation mistakes. So, is it “bachelors” or “bachelor’s” degree?
You won’t need an English degree to learn which one is correct, but an understanding of the reasons why we tend to be confused with these two words is essential.
To begin with, the confusion between “bachelors” and “bachelor’s” stems from the phenomena of homonym in linguistics (Yokhontova, 2020). A homonym refers to a set of words that are pronounced identically and are also spelled the same way but may have different meanings. For example, non-native English speakers often get confused with the words “its” (the possessive form of the pronoun it) and the contracted form of it is (it’s) because both words have the same sound and same spelling. In the word bachelor’s, the punctuation mark denotes possession. Thus, bachelors, in the context of the academe, is a group of graduates who have completed a degree program. Bachelor’s with the apostrophe is singular and possessive, and intends to convey that the individual has earned, and possesses, a particular degree program, which explains the use of the possessive form.
The second reason for the confusion is that in its possessive usage, the singular possessive noun sounds exactly the same as the plural, so you have to have an understanding of the word’s purpose to get it right (Schumacher, 2020). In such cases, comprehension is crucial because knowing the context of the sentence is important to determine whether the word takes an apostrophe or not. People tend to be confused between “bachelors” and “bachelor’s,” on whether to use an apostrophe or not, because knowing when to use an apostrophe is not always easy. In 2009, for example, the Birmingham City Council decreed to halt the use of apostrophes in public addresses. The council reasoned that nobody understands apostrophes, and it has been identified as a significant hindrance to effective navigation. But for writing academic degrees, apostrophes are still being used, and correct usage always promotes clarity.
The confusion between bachelors vs. bachelor’s may also be attributed to the lack of communicative competence. Popularized in the field of modern linguistics by Dell Hymes in 1972, communicative competence is a term that refers to the tacit knowledge of a language and the ability to understand and use the language effectively for communication purposes (Nordquist, 2019). In the case of bachelors vs bachelor’s, we can see that language is neither understood nor used effectively when users are not sure how to use each term properly. When one has the ability to form correct utterances and use those utterances appropriately, then communicative competency is present.
Both terms are acceptable depending on how you use them. If you are referring to an undergraduate degree, the correct term is bachelor’s. It is singular and possessive, because somebody owns the degree. The word bachelor’s shows possession of the degree earned, thus the use of the apostrophe.
Bachelors, without the apostrophe, is a plural form that can be used only when you are referring to a group of graduates who have finished a degree. Such as in the sentence, “The next group to be awarded are the bachelors.” There is no other instance in which the plural bachelors can be used, at least in the context of the academe.
Every bachelor’s degree holder is expected, at least by most employers, to have language proficiency. Over time, however, the teaching of writing has shifted from the product of writing to the process of writing (Metusalem et al., 2017). Research writing, which is among the coursework of bachelor’s degree students, focused more on content, rather than clarity of prose. Research shows that among the important skills deemed important by employers in the first year of employment is written communication skills (Zahner and Lehrfeld, 2018).
In their work “Graduate employability skills: Words and phrases used in job interviews,” Krishnan et al. (2021) found that among job applicants “language proficiency plays a crucial role in job interviews as it can define and separate different groups of interviewees. Though the reserved and unsuccessful might possess qualities that could be useful and desired by the relevant organizations, their limited language proficiency can hamper them from being selected.” Published in the Australian Journal of Career Development, the study established a strong relationship between a high level of language proficiency and employability.
Often, we see mistakes committed in plural word forms written with an apostrophe, which could also be one of the reasons why the word “bachelor’s” is sometimes perceived as a grammatical error. But it is not, in the case of the word bachelor’s, the apostrophe is right where it is supposed to be.
Now that the score is settled between “bachelors” and “bachelor’s,” you might also be wondering about the use of “baccalaureate.”
In general, “baccalaureate” and “bachelor” are two words that have the same meaning. A baccalaureate degree is the same as a bachelor’s degree, as both terms refer to the lowest academic degree awarded by a college or university.
Between baccalaureate and bachelor, the word bachelor is the modern term, as baccalaureate was the first term used in the mid-17th century as higher education transitioned to the form that we know today. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word baccalaureate has its origins from the French “baccalauréat” and Medieval Latin “baccalaureatus.” A much older term on record is “baccalarius,” which was altered later on to conform with “bacca lauri” or laurel berry, also known as the laurels awarded to scholars.
The term baccalaureate is also known as a form of examination in France and the United Kingdom to assess performance. It is an academic qualification taken at the end of secondary education and is required for students that plan to pursue a university education.
In the U.S., there are International Baccalaureate (IB) diplomas awarded to high school students that have completed advanced studies. The IB doubles as a highly respected college preparatory curriculum that includes six areas of study—language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer science, and the arts.
Except when referring to the type of examination in France and the United Kingdom, and college preparatory courses in the U.S., it is safe to use baccalaureate as an alternative term for bachelor.
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers
ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel revealed that spelling and grammar mistakes in applicants’ resumés always warrant an immediate rejection. Around 70% of all resumés are sorted by a computer algorithm before they ever get to the hiring manager, thus, it is very important to know how to properly use the grammatically correct terms to be able to submit a well-written profile that reflects your written communication competency.
The singular form bachelor is used as part of the formal name of an academic degree awarded by a college or university. Since it is a formal title, bachelor should be capitalized. When the full name of the degree is used, capitalize the official degree title, but not the major.
For bachelor’s degree with a concentration, the full degree name should be capitalized with both the major and concentration written in lowercase.
Remember, use the term bachelor only when you are talking about a specific degree title. In writing, “bachelor” is always capitalized because it is used as a proper noun along with the complete degree title.
The bachelor’s is the possessive form and is the proper English to denote possession because the degree is the property of a person. Write bachelor’s in lowercase and always use an apostrophe.
When used as a general reference and regular noun, the word bachelor’s is written in lowercase with the appropriate possessive apostrophe.
When is a bachelor’s degree capitalized? Bachelor’s degree should be capitalized only when it is a part of a title or a headline, or if it falls at the start of the sentence. In discussing how to write your academic degree, another question that often surfaces is how do you spell bachelor’s degree. It is the same as the plural form of bachelor, which is bachelors, only with an apostrophe before the s because it is in possessive form.
Use an apostrophe (possessive) for referring to the bachelor’s degree, but not when stating the full name of the degree (Bachelor of Arts).
While writing the full academic title or general reference is always preferred, use the abbreviated form of formal degrees in cases where using the full name or general reference might populate the text, as with lists or correspondence. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook recommends that you write out the title of the degree and avoid abbreviations, but most educational institutions have embraced using abbreviations given their long list of degree offerings. Note that institutions also differ in style as some prefer abbreviating degree titles without a period after each letter while some choose to include them, B.S. for bachelor of science and B.A. for bachelor of arts.
Almost every university has its own editorial style guide, including your university, thus you may prefer to check with your institution’s style guide for consistency. The rule for using the terms bachelors and bachelor’s, however, is the same for the entire academic sector.
When to use “bachelors” and when to use “bachelor’s” can be confusing at first, but with a proper understanding of grammar rules and punctuation, you will know the difference. Words evolve, but the basics of sentence and word structure that promote clarity will remain. Writing styles may differ, but there is a universal set of rules that institutions uphold.
Knowing the types of college degrees, and how to write each one properly, can be a significant indicator of how learned you are not just in your specific field, but also in communications, which is an important skill that employers look for in every candidate. Your knowledge of proper grammar and correct use of punctuation will boost your confidence, and at the same time convey your competence in communication.