Avoiding the Christmas Apostrophe Catastrophe
When to USe Apostrophes on Christmas Cards & Gift Tags (Hint: NEVER)
It's time for my annual Christmas card punctuation PSA! Whether you’re getting ready to address and label a couple hundred Christmas cards or writing names on neighbor gift tags, that age old question tends to pop up. What do I do with those pesky names that end in “s”? Do I add an apostrophe or not? If so, where does it go?
Here are FIVE quick tips to help us all appropriately address the Lucases, Joneses, and Wattses we all know and love around the holidays—or any time of year.
TIP #1: When in doubt, just say "The _____ Family."
• To the Lucas family
• From the Lang family
No plural, no possessive, no problem. It may seem like the lazy way out, but your gift recipients will forgive you. (And if they won’t, they don’t deserve your holiday generosity.)
TIP #2: If the last name does NOT already end in “s,” add one. But just one and nothing else. No apostrophe needed.
• To the Smiths
• From the Smiths
I know, if you’re used to throwing apostrophes around like you’re adding sprinkles to Christmas cookies, these will look plain. Maybe a bit boring. But please, save your sprinkles for the times when they’ll really be appreciated.
TIP #3: If the last name DOES end in “s” already, add “es” to make it plural. Then step AWAY from the gift tag.
• To the Joneses
• From the Lewises
Do NOT add an apostrophe. It will be tempting to add one, but resist the urge. An apostrophe would be superfluous, and no one likes superfluity at Christmas. If this FREAKS you out, or if you’re friends with the Esteves family, please refer back to Tip #1. You’ll always be safe with Tip #1.
TIP #4: I’m going to say something BOLD right now. You NEVER need to add an apostrophe to someone’s last name on a gift tag or a Christmas card. Seriously, never. Don’t add one to your last name. Don’t add one to your recipient’s last name. Just keep your right pinkie away from that ’ key. Let it sit there and smirk. (Of all the punctuation marks, I’ve always felt that the apostrophe has a certain smugness about it. Like it’s daring us to use it correctly, despite all its crazy and contradictory rules.)
That’s it! You can stop reading here, and you'll be correct on 95% of your holiday correspondence! Hooray!
But, for those of you who want to go the extra 5% and really get down with your holiday plurals and possessives, I have one final tip for you.
TIP #5: The ONLY reason to add an apostrophe to someone's name is when you're talking about ownership. Here are some examples of when you would need to use plurals and possessives around the holidays.
If the last name does NOT end in "s":
• Join us for a Christmas party at the Smiths' house.
Plural AND possessive. There's more than one Smith, and the Smiths own something (a house). Well, maybe they rent, but that’s none of your business.
• The Smiths are throwing a party.
Plural but not possessive. There's more than one Smith, but you're not talking about anything they own, just something they're doing.
• Don't forget Jane Smith's gift.
Possessive but not plural. There's only one Jane, and she is about to own something (a gift).
If the last name already ends in “s”:
• Join us for a Christmas party at the Lucases’ house.
Plural AND possessive. There's more than one Lucas (so you add an "es") and they own something (a house), so you add an apostrophe. But they’re not really having a party, so don’t come over.
• The Lucases are having a party.
Plural but not possessive. There's more than one Lucas (so you add an "es"), but you're not talking about anything they own, just something they're doing (throwing a hypothetical party, which would hypothetically be super fun).
• Don't forget Angie Lucas' gift.
Possessive but not plural. There's only one Angie (!!!), and she's about to own something (how kind of you!). (But seriously, if you come over, don’t forget the gift.)
BONUS TIP: There's NEVER a reason to add an "s" all by itself to a last name that already ends in "s." You probably already know that, but Shutterfly doesn't. The image below was suggested as matching address label for my Christmas cards. "The Lucass"? Sounds vaguely dirty.
BONUS BONUS TIP: What about the mythical s’s situation? You know you’ve seen it before, but you’re not sure when or how to use it... Here’s the lowdown. If a singular name already ends in “s,” it’s technically correct to either add a lone apostrophe OR to add an apostrophe + another “s.” If you’ve made the last name plural already, it’s never correct to add another “s” to make it possessive. Just the apostrophe will do.
These are both correct, so take your pick:
• That Christmas party at Angie Lucas’ house was SO awesome!
• That party at Angie Lucas’s house was super freaking fun.
(I personally never tack on that extra “s,” so I don’t have to stop and remember when to add it and when not to.)
This is never correct:
• That party at the Lucases’s house was AMAZING.
And neither is this, Shutterfly:
• That party at The Lucass house was adequate.
Join me in giving the gift of proper punctuation this year!