[First published in November 2013 on my Why a Duck? blog, the following post was one of the more popular ones. With thirty-seven short days until Christmas, it seemed a good time to pull it out of my barrel and share it with you .]
’Tis the season to send greeting cards and party invitations and to exchange gifts. How do you sign a card or gift tag when you want to say it’s from you, your spouse, the kids, and the dog (okay, even from the cat)? That is, the entire [insert appropriate name] family. Specifically, where do you put the stinking apostrophe? Or is there an apostrophe?
Ah, the apostrophe: blessing to some and bane to many. Let’s have a quick review of its three basic uses: (1) to indicate possession (Dean’s blog, the Christensens’ home); (2) to make a contraction (“Isn’t that nice?” “I don’t care.”); and (3) in certain rare occasions to avoid confusion, to indicate plural (“Here are the do’s and don’ts of apostrophe use.”). Apart from the rare number 3, apostrophes do not a plural make. Let me say it another way: Adding apostrophe s to a word does not make it plural. In 99.99 percent of its uses, the apostrophe indicates possession or a contraction of two words into one, not a plural.* Have I made that point clear, that we don’t add an apostrophe s (or s apostrophe) to a word or name to make it plural?
So let’s look at the graphic above and decide which one is correct. Is it (a) Merry Christmas from the Christensen’s, (b) Merry Christmas from the Christensens’, or (c) Merry Christmas from the Christensens? Contestants, you have 30 seconds to write your answers. [Hum Jeopardy music here.]
If you answered (c), Merry Christmas from the Christensens (no apostrophe), you win! Your check is in the mail.
This is also correct if you are giving a card or gift to the Christensens (again, no apostrophe). The Christensens includes me, my wife, the kids, the dog, and anyone else who wants to claim kinship. No apostrophe. No apostrophe. No apostrophe. I feel like I’m repeating myself.
Not to confuse you (you knew I’d try), but there is a time when you do appropriately include an apostrophe: when you are sending an invitation to an event or writing directions to your place. So if you send me an invitation to join your family for a holiday party, and your name is Brown, you would write, Come enjoy a holiday party at the Browns’. And when writing out directions, you would say, Here’s how to get to the Browns’. Why the apostrophe now, for pity’s sake? Because in both instances you’re indicating a possessive and the word place is implied: Come enjoy a holiday party at the Browns’ [place]. Here’s how to get to the Browns’ [place]. If there’s only one of you, you might write, Here’s how to get to Brown’s [place], although you’d probably say my place, or Dan Brown’s house. (You’ll need to crack the elusive code at the gate to get in.)
If your name ends in s or z, you will typically add es to make it plural. For example, Merry Christmas! With love, the Joneses (note the es to make it plural—and no apostrophe). Or if it’s an invitation: You’re invited to the Martinezes’ for a New Year’s bash! (it’s plural, so the es is needed, and again the word place is implied, so we add the apostrophe to make it possessive).
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Christensens! Δ
* This 99.99% statistic is based on observation and semi-educated conjecture. In other words, I made it up—but it seems about right.
© 2013, 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.