Apostrophes’, Apostrophe’s, Apostropheses! (Your Holiday Grammar Explained)

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Thanksgiving is over and we all know what that means: ’tis the season for writing holiday cards – and reviewing rules for proper apostrophe usage!

Remember: Apostrophes are like garlic; some things taste awesome with garlic, but some things need to stay miles away from garlic. Unlike garlic, though, apostrophes can’t just be sprinkled onto anything we please.

Most of us know the general rule with using apostrophes for showing possession. Take a look at the following examples:

My cat’s Santa hat –> singular, possessive.

My cats’ Santa hats –> plural, possessive.

Apostrophes are never used to pluralize a noun. “Cat’s” does not mean more than one cat; it’s a singular cat owning something.

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Apostrophes with first names ending in -s

That said, how do we show possession with names that already end in -s? Take, for example, my name – Ines.

Generally, there are two ways to do this, and they’re based on style over concrete grammatical rules:

Ines’ cat scratched Luke’s arm. 

Ines’s cat scratched Luke’s arm.

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Various style guides disagree on which is more appropriate. AP and APA, for example, both prefer the first form. However, the Chicago Manual of Style and The Economist both prefer the second. So, choosing between the two depends on who you’re writing for and which format they’re partial to. If your professor or editor doesn’t have a preference, commit to one and remain consistent.

Personally, I prefer the second option. It’s uniform with all other names, and names are not plural.

Unless, of course, we’re talking about family last names…

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Apostrophes with last names ending in -s

When signing off on holiday cards, many can get confused about whether or not they should sprinkle their apostrophe garlic.

Say your last name is Jonas. If you and your family are writing greeting cards to friends or distant relatives, how would you sign off?

Take a gander at these options, and consider which one you think is correct:

  1. “Happy holidays! Love, the Jonas’s.”

  2. “Happy holidays! Love, the Jonases.” 

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If you chose #2, congrats! Now, why is that the better option?

The Jonases are not owning anything; they’re simply a cumulative unit of family members signing off together. When a last name ends in s, sh, ch, x, or z, add -es to signify pluralization. For all other endings, -s works (e.g., the Smiths, the Kardashians, etc.).

If only one of the Jonases owned something, like a rambunctious cat, then the sentence would read, “Jonas’s rambunctious cat destroyed the tree.” 

Now, what would you do if the Jonases owned something together? Let’s look at two more options:

  1. The Jonases’ pet cat spilled garlic all over the floor.

  2. The Jonases’s pet cat spilled garlic all over the floor.

Here, #1 is correct. Think back to our first example with cats’. Multiple cats are owning something, so the apostrophe at the end defines that concept. Jonases is already plural, so all you need is an apostrophe to show that they all own the garlic-spilling cat together.

Now that you know how to properly sign off on all your greeting cards, enjoy your holidays, not your holiday’s.

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