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

Is It President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or Presidents Day?

As the third Monday in February approaches, some people may wonder how to write the name of the American holiday that honors U.S. presidents. The answer may surprise you, since authorities seem to disagree on the spelling as well as the name itself.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official name is “Washington’s Birthday” in honor of the birthday of America’s first president, George Washington.

From the National Archives:

“Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22nd until well into the 20th Century. However, in 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to ‘provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.’ By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to ‘bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.’

“One of the provisions of this act changed the observance of Washington’s Birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday in February. Ironically, this guaranteed that the holiday would never be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, as the third Monday in February cannot fall any later than February 21.

“Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to ‘President’s Day.’ “

It becomes more confusing at the state level because the day is a state holiday in many U.S. states with official names including Washington’s Birthday, Presidents’ Day, President’s Day, Presidents Day, Washington and Lincoln Day, and others.

Do You Use an Apostrophe When Spelling Presidents Day?

According to The Associated Press Stylebook:

Presidents Day

No apostrophe is an exception to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, in keeping with the descriptive-phrases guidance in possessives. The term is not adopted by the federal government as the official name of the Washington’s Birthday holiday. However, some federal agencies, states, and local governments use the term.

The no-apostrophe choice was made primarily for consistency with similar holidays, such as Veterans Day. It is an exception to Webster’s, but A Dictionary of Days and The American Book of Days offer the same guidance as AP.

According to The Chicago Manual of Style:

Presidents’ Day

As for “Presidents’ Day,” according to Title V, section 6103, of the United States Code (which covers federal holidays and is usually cited as 5 U.S.C. § 6103), that holiday is still officially Washington’s Birthday but has been expanded to honor other presidents. “Presidents’ Day” demonstrates Chicago style, legal name or not.

According to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of Presidents’ Day: the third Monday in February observed as a legal holiday in most of the states of the U.S. in honor of the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Note: The federal name for this holiday according to the United States Code is Washington’s Birthday, but many states and municipalities refer to it as Presidents’ Day, honoring both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It is also sometimes considered to be in honor of all U.S. presidents.

In sum, you might want to check to see if the day is a holiday in your state and how it is spelled. If you wish to follow AP’s recommendation to use the word “Presidents” descriptively to modify the word “Day,” write Presidents Day. If you choose to follow CMOS and Merriam-Webster to use the plural possessive Presidents’, indicating a day to honor all presidents, write “Presidents’ Day.” You may also choose to follow the official name of the federal holiday honoring George Washington’s birthday and write “Washington’s Birthday.”




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2 responses to “Is It President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or Presidents Day?”

  1. Susan G Alexander says:

    Back when I was in high school (1960-1963), my English teacher taught that a possessive apostrophe could be–and should be– used when the apostrophe could be construed to mean “of.” Thus, the holiday Veterans Day, using her model, would be “Veterans’ Day,” or the Day of Veterans and a parents’ group would be a group “of” parents. Likewise, a building that has a residents’ association is not describing an association “belonging to” the building’s residents but an association “of” the residents. I wonder if other people learned this rule. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere in the blog. Perhaps the “of” usage for apostrophes is simply an outdated construction. Thank you for an interesting discussion.

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