Veterans Day

A short history and punctuation primer.

us-flagToday we honor and thank those who have served our country in the U.S. armed forces in wartime. Originally called Armistice Day—to commemorate the signing of the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918—the name of the legal holiday was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all Americans who have served during times of armed conflict. The proclamation, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, read in part: “Whereas, in order that . . . a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress, by an act approved June 1, 1954 . . . changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.”

Why is the holiday written Veterans Day without an apostrophe in there somewhere? Why not Veterans’ Day or even Veteran’s Day?[1] After all, don’t we always use an apostrophe with possessives?

The short answer is that we’re not talking possessive here. The plural noun Veterans is functioning as an adjective, not a possessive. To be more technical, it’s an attributive noun—a noun that modifies another noun. Written without an apostrophe, Veterans describes who the legal holiday is about or for. The day is about veterans, it doesn’t necessarily belong to veterans. It belongs to all Americans, who are commemorating our veterans. So it’s a plural without an apostrophe.

In the same way, we have a farmers market (a market about or for farmers), a teachers union (a union about or for teachers), and a ballplayers association (an association about or for ballplayers).

The distinction can be considered slight, and we could legitimately make it a plural possessive if we wanted (i.e., Veterans’ Day). But in Standard Written English the major style guides and dictionaries all call for no apostrophe.[2]

Happy Veterans Day!  Δ

[1] Definitely not Veteran’s (singular) Day, as though we were talking about one, and only one, veteran.

[2] The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), the AP Stylebook (2011), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition), and The American Heritage Dictionary (5th edition) all agree on “Veterans Day.”

© 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.




Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, baseball bug, word lover, book hound, guitar picker, classical music aficionado, classic rock 'n' roll and movie buff, sinner, saint, former this, used-to-be that, and future who-knows-what. Every day is an adventure in learning how to make the world a better place--grammatically, anyway.

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