Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WNW: Holiday Edition

Today's Word Nerd Wednesday is brief but relevant in the Christmas gifting season, and it revolves around a very simple but often-forgotten rule of punctuation that makes my eye twitch whenever I see it.

Remember this one, for my sake:

Plurals do not take an apostrophe.

You wear shoes, not shoe's.

You have kids, not kid's.

And when you deliver a plate of cookies to the neighbors, the gift tag shouldn't be addressed to the Jensen's.

You are giving the gift to a family comprised of lots of people named Jensen.

That's plural.

USE: Jensens

I invariably see little misplaced apostrophes everywhere on gift tags, Christmas card envelopes, and more. Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

It's an illness. I know that. Humor me.

But why is the apostrophe wrong?

Here's the deal: An apostrophe before the S makes a word possessive. On gift tags, you're addressing a plural group, not declaring that one of them owns anything.

Worse, if the apostrophe is before the S (as is usual for this kind of mistake), it's singular. It's not even plural for the entire family to own anything.

Apostrophe-s ('s) means that there's just one shoe, one kid, one Jensen.

So these would be correct:

The shoe's lace broke.

The kid's teacher was nice.

I could find a correct sentence for the word, Jensen's, but it would probably sound weird, because you don't usually use a last name in a singular sense unless you're in the army or on a sports team ("Jensen's tackle was awesome"), and I can't think of a single situation where "the" belongs in front of it ("the Jensen's tackle"? Um, no.).

As a special Christmas gift to me, please, please, please, when you address gift tags or Christmas card envelopes this year, restrain your pen. Don't write that little jot of an apostrophe!

Simply address your well wishes to the Jensens, the Mitchells, and the Smiths.

My non-twitching eye will thank you profusely.


Kristina P. said...

So, so true. Although. I do find myself adding them anyway, especially when making blog comments! If I go back and read it, I catch myself, but it's just one of those things.

Lara Neves said...

And my last name really screws people up. :)

They usually just give up and write, "The Neves Family." But I hate it when it's to "The Neves'" I realize that "The Neveses looks weird, but what can you do?

Heidi said...

Such a timely reminder. For some reason, I have a hard time with this one. Sometimes I remember--no apostropher when addressing to a family--and sometimes I don't. Nertzy!

Josi said...

Aha--this is one I know! The only time I mess it up is just when it looks so much better to have an 's on a word, like your's. Good explination.

Alyson | New England Living said...

I hate this one too! My niece recently put up a post titled "Costume's". I seriously wanted to poke my eyes out until she up another post.

I resisted the urge to leave a comment saying: The costume's what? What do the costumes have? AHHH!!

Ann On and On... said...

I am one grammatical error after another, but I love to write. (sometimes I do it on purpose...) I'm sure you would be bald after reading my blog from pulling your hair out of irritation.

I will continue to follow your blog. It is great to review if not learn something new.

I look forward to reading your books.

Melanie Jacobson said...

Wow, Annette. This request really is more of a gift to ALL of us in the volunteer grammar police force. (I work undercover, though).

LisAway said...

I was reading and thinking "Of course I know all of this! This is so basic!!" But then I remember that besides the regular mix ups: their for they're, it's for its, your for you're--I've started adding apostrophes into my plural nouns! It's terrifying! It's only happened a few times but it really scares me! :)

I really do know those rule and it's totally just a mindless thing. Ugh.

Heffalump said...

What about last names that end with s? For want to deliver something to the family of Betsy Ross. Do you write to the Rosses? I of course, would solve this by writing, To the Ross Family, but I am curious about what is proper because Rosses just looks weird to me.
Also...if I were to be going there for a visit would I tell someone I was going to the Ross' house? Or the Ross's? This is where I get confused...please don't hate me for my ignorance...I never went to college!

Jan said...

I am the complete worst. I am sorry if I have made you crinch at reading some posts. I do it wrong all the time. I didn't listen well. But I will refer here often. :)

Alison Wonderland said...

Annette I feel your pain. (Have you been to the blog of unnecessary apostrophies? email me and I'll get you a link.)
My maiden name is Jones and as previously noted that only exaserbates the problem (Heffalump, it's Rosses. It might look weird but that doesn't change the fact.)

Annette Lyon said...

Lest anyone gets overly paranoid about these things, let me say that blog errors don't usually bug me. Maybe it's the conversational nature of them or something, but I AM capable of taking off the grammar police at times. :)

And Alison, I love that blog! Also the one of unnecessary quote marks. These things bring word nerds like me joy. And of course, you're right about the Rosses.

Stephanie Black said...

Bless you, Annette!

Larsens said...

And all the last names on the mailboxes around the country always have the apostrophe.

Cajoh said...

My wife has an interesting way of indicating who food gifts are from— by putting the address of the "house" it came from. So, if I lived at 10 Oak Street… I don't so don't try to write there the tag would say:

To: Your address here
From: 10 Oak

Pretty cool huh.

Sandra said...

How about this Annette
The Jensen's Christmas tree was well lit.

That is when you can use the before Jensen as well as the apostrophe because the tree belongs to the family.

My kids call me the grammer police as well. However I do find myself going overboard with commas and parenthesis on my blog.

Annette Lyon said...

For that sentence to work, you'd have to swap the apostrophe and the s, because it's still plural--you're referring to a group of Jensens and then referring to their tree, not one single Jensen:

The Jensens' Christmas tree was well lit.

That's why "the Jensen's" is awkward--you'd be referring to just one person named Jensen and something they own.

Sandra said...

Shoot, I knew that. I'll keep thinking. Maybe.

Annette Lyon said...

If you think of one, let me know!

Redhoodoos said...

Oooh, this is good!! Thanks for this.

I received the book and can't wait to dive in!! Thank you again!

Amanda D said...

Hmm. Now I am going to wonder if I am using my apostrphes correctly. It's a good thing though. Thanks!

Randi said...

Thank-you for correcting this - - it makes me twitch, too!

Even better, my last name actually ends with an S. Every now and then we get something addressed
To The Jone's.
Not even kidding.

Luisa Perkins said...

Brava, my friend!

Rebecca Blevins said...

I need to stop reading and go lie down, but I applaud you heartily!

Misplaced apostrophes drive me as crazy as the current trend for lose/loosed. AAAHHHHH!

"I'm sorry, did you just LOOSE your shoe? Well, my recommendation would be to tighten it..."

Although I know I make a lot of punctuation mistakes, so I can't be too harsh.

But still.

Jami said...


It's the its/it's issue that has messed us all up. Just when we think we've got it down. It's time to talk about its exception.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Smith, and having something addressed to the Smith's makes me twitch. Does that mean if I don't like it, I can hand it to a different Smith?

Anonymous said...

I just read Rebecca's comment, and I agree. The worst word mix-up in my book would be lose/loose. It seems to be extremely common!


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