Grammar Confusing Possessives Revisited |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Confusing Possessives Revisited

As the second Sunday in May approaches, many of you may be wondering how to write the name of the holiday—is it Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day, or Mothers Day? We first looked into the topic of where to properly place holiday apostrophes in a 2008 newsletter. Today we provide an update.

The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook list the following holidays as singular possessives: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day. CMOS uses plural possessive for Presidents’ Day, while AP Style writes Presidents Day. Both agree on no apostrophe in Veterans Day.

Your guess is as good as anyone’s about Secretary’s vs. Secretaries’ vs. Secretaries Day and Boss’s vs. Bosses’ vs. Bosses Day.

What would you do if we had a Children’s Day holiday? Because Children is an irregular plural (not formed by adding an s or es), you would have to use the apostrophe in the title because there is no such word as Childrens.

Example: Children’s Hospital

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

19 responses to “Confusing Possessives Revisited”

  1. Carey Lawes says:

    How do you address a situation where two persons possess, say a book? Marsha and Mary’s book are on the table

    • Our Rule 4a of Apostrophes says, “If two people possess the same item, put the apostrophe + s after the second name only.” Marsha and Mary’s book is on the table.

      • Curtis Clothier says:

        I’d like to know how to handle the apostrophes when the noun is either one thing or another but not both. Is this maybe a reason to add a rule 4c? For example, if someone is either a client or a prospect (not yet a client) and I am referring to something belonging to that person would I say “I would like the client’s or prospect’s phone number” or “I would like the “client or prospect’s phone number”? We are really only talking about one person, but I don’t think that’s the same as when two people share ownership in one thing such as “Marsha and Mary’s book is on the table.” What which would you say is correct and why?

        P.S. Maybe this should be a new blog post, but I didn’t find a way to create a new one.

        • We imagine that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, we would be aware of whether a caller is a prospect or a client, and thus we would use the term that applies to that person. If not, we recommend a less awkward “I would like the person’s phone number.”

  2. Chris says:

    I think that the example of “Children’s Day” shows that it ought to be “Mothers’ Day”. It would never be “Child’s Day”, so it shouldn’t be “Mother’s Day”; it would never be “Children Day”, so it shouldn’t be “Mothers Day”.

    Of course, here in England we solve the problem by calling it “Mothering Sunday” instead!

  3. Teddy Rinpoche says:

    I’ve read your great articles about the use of the apostrophes that I never think it’s so hard.
    My name is Teddy and I’m interested to use my name for my business name that is “Teddy’s Bali Tours”.
    Can you please give me a suggestion if it’s correct or not if not to use the apostrophe on it for a company/business name lake “Teddys Bali Tours”? I see typing Teddys on social media is easier then Teddy’s (with the apostrophe).
    Thanks in advance.

  4. Henry Fickenscher says:

    Members of the church I attend have been considering changing the name of our church from St. John’s Lutheran Church to St. John Lutheran Church, in order to conform to rules for usage of apostrophe s. While it’s understood that our church does not literally belong to St. John, it is quite common for church names to use the apostrophe s. With such widespread common use of the apostrophe s in these circumstances, do churches get special dispensation for not abiding by the rule?

  5. Amina says:

    Good post! I have another question. Is it proper to write “Mary’s mother’s house” or should this be reworded as “The house of Mary’s mother”?

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Love your grammar blog.
    Thanks in advance for your help.
    I’m writing a book called ‘the new graduate’s guide to physiotherapy.’

    Very unsure about where to put the apostrophe.

    Or none at all?

    My editor proposed graduate’s but I want to make sure I get it right so just triple checking. Can you please help?

    I’m in Australia not sure if that changes anything! Thank you! Will be available in the US too.

  7. Gail McCaskill says:

    Which is correct?
    Dinner at the McCaskills’ or Dinner at the McCaskill’s

    • Our Rule 2a of Apostrophes says, “Regular nouns are nouns that form their plurals by adding either the letter s or es (guy, guys; letter, letters; actress, actresses; etc.). To show plural possession, simply put an apostrophe after the s.” Therefore, the plural possessive is dinner at the McCaskills’ [house or home is understood].

  8. Clint says:

    From your apostrophe page:

    Rule 2d. Things can get really confusing with the possessive plurals of proper names ending in s, such as Hastings and Jones.

    If you’re the guest of the Ford family—the Fords—you’re the Fords’ guest (Ford + s + apostrophe). But what if it’s the Hastings family?

    My question is, which one is the family’s name? Ford or Fords? It appears to go back and forth in this example. Shouldn’t it be “if you’re a guest of the Fords family”? Otherwise I may show up to the Ford’s house next door.

    • “If you’re the guest of the Ford family …” indicates that the family’s last name is Ford. The plural of Ford is Fords. Saying “the Fords” means you are referring to more than one family member whose last name is Ford. The plural possessive is Fords’. This term is used to indicate ownership by more than one member of the Ford family.

  9. Mandie says:

    I have a school newsletter going out soon and we are advertising an upcoming Luncheon with the Headmaster specifically targeted at school dads. The name of it is ”Dads Luncheon with Landis” (which is our Headmaster’s name). My question is whether it should be ”Dads Luncheon with Landis” or ”Dads’ Luncheon with Landis.”

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