Grammar Is It Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day, or Mothers Day? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Is It Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day, or Mothers Day?

As the second Sunday of May approaches, we are reminded again of the importance of motherhood. The holiday dedicated to mothers was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and later made an official U.S. holiday in 1914.

Its origin can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but the foundation of the modern holiday stems from the early Christian festival called “Mothering Sunday.” Once a tradition in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, the celebration took place on the fourth Sunday in Lent as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church” near home for a special service.

Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition became the holiday we now know, which leads to a prominent question for some. How do we properly write the holiday in American English: Is it Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day, or Mothers Day?

Do We Use an Apostrophe in Mother’s Day?

The most direct answer is yes. 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 the plural possessive for Presidents’ Day, while AP writes Presidents Day. Both agree on no apostrophe in Veterans Day.

Some people may not agree with the singular possessive spelling of Mother’s Day because it implies one mother. There are several scenarios in which a person can have two mothers: a mother and stepmother, a biological mother and adopted mother, or a home with two mothers raising a child. The same can be true of two fathers.

Perhaps if you think of the word Mothers as an adjective describing the word Day, then you would not use an apostrophe. It would be a day of or for mothers rather than one they possess. (Our post Apostrophes and False Possessives discusses how English nouns often become adjectives.) If we use the plural possessive Mothers’ Day, we would imply a day belonging to all mothers. Neither Mothers nor Mothers’ is endorsed by CMOS or AP.

It’s possible the style guides will someday drop the apostrophe. Until then, your spell-check program may identify Mothers Day or Mothers’ Day as incorrect.

Must Mother’s Day Be Capitalized?

Another question may concern whether Mother’s Day should always be capitalized. The answer is that when we are referring to the holiday, we do capitalize it as a proper noun phrase.

If on the other hand we are making a general reference to a nonspecific day associated with a mother, we most often will not capitalize the phrase.

Proper noun phrase: Our family follows a tradition of spending Mother’s Day first at the zoo and then at Mom’s favorite restaurant.

General reference: Her mother’s day started out on a happy note with a surprise visit from her best friend.

Related Topics

Giving Special Days Their Grammatical Due
Is It Father’s Day or Fathers Day?

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10 responses to “Is It Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day, or Mothers Day?”

  1. Jim Young says:

    Mothers’ is more appropriate in that this is a day for all mothers.

    • says:

      As the post indicates, the style guides do not endorse “Mothers’ Day.” Therefore, you may find spell-check programs identifying an error.

  2. Lee McIntyre says: (a site) agrees with GrammarBook, and explains why:

    “Mother’s Day is an interesting case, though, because its creator Anna Jarvis actually insisted on this particular punctuation placement. Jarvis wanted the day to use a singular possessive to highlight that the day should be dedicated to each family honoring their particular mother.

    “The apostrophe placement we use signals exactly what Jarvis wanted. If the holiday was instead called “Mothers Day,” it would imply the day was dedicated to celebrating all mothers or motherhood in general. If the day was called “Mothers’ Day,” it would mean the day belonged to all mothers—and you would need to buy a lot more gifts! By using the name Mother’s Day, the holiday indicates that it belongs to each individual mother, just as Jarvis wanted.” –

  3. Freyr Kamadeva says:

    I don’t understand this logic for Mother’s and Father’s Day but the same is not applied to Veterans Day.

    • says:

      This item has been hashed over among editors of the leading style guides as well. While perspectives on proper style may abound, the style guides choose their guidelines to offer direction and consistency. We refer to The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style for guidance when needed.

  4. Susan Andrews says:

    I agree with Jim – as it is a day for all mothers; the apostrophe should be placed after the s for consistency.

  5. Emmanuel M Dan says:

    I have read the explanations relative to the application of the apostrophe after the letter “r” and before the letter “s” in Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. In my opinion, and as a prolific writer, I am inclined to disagree on the application of the apostrophe as indicated above based on the explanations given. In just the same reason that we do not say or write “Child’s Day” but “Children’s Day,” not “President’s Day” but “Presidents’ Day,” I would strongly argue that applying the apostrophe after the letter “s” would be more appropriately acceptable thus, “Mothers’ Day,” Fathers’ Day.”

  6. A.jacobson says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

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