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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pet Peeve: Pluralizing Proper Names

Before anyone comments on the title of this post, allow me to quote Webby:

pluralize (transitive verb) To make plural or express in the plural form.
Great. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to the Peeve. Here's an example of the sort of preprinted holiday cards I received this season:
Merry Christmas from the Smith's!
Do I object to preprinted cards? Hardly. Who has time to print "Merry Christmas" a hundred times? And I love that these sentiments often come printed on nice family photos with a Christmassy border. Do I mind that I've received some of them in January? Not a smidge--send them as Valentines for all I care. I just like getting mail.

The problem is with the blasted apostrophe. It's become so ubiquitous that my dear sister, who knows when to use apostrophes and when to leave them in the rubbish heap, called me in a panic and asked if she's been writing her cards wrong all these years.

She hasn't.

One member of the Smith family is a Smith:
Even after her marriage to Kevin Delaney, Nadine remained a Smith.
Two members of the Smith family are Smiths:
I'd love to have the Smiths over for dinner, but you know they'd eat us out of house and home.
The card read: "Merry Christmas from the Smiths!"
The Smiths are a lovely family, but they do misplace apostrophes.
Tricky Names

Last names that end in s or sh are treated just like other nouns that end that way. You add an -es at the end to form the plural. Here are some nouns:

mess -- messes
dress -- dresses
brush -- brushes
push -- pushes

The same applies to last names:

Jones -- the Joneses
Meyers -- the Meyerses
Ness -- the Nesses
Greenbush -- the Greenbushes

If your name ends in -se, add an -s only, just as you normally would:

Lachaise -- the Lachaises
Maise -- the Maises

When to Use an Apostrophe

An apostrophe denotes ownership, as in:
Fiona Smith's party extended into the morning hours.
Lyle Birchman's car is stuck in a snowdrift.
Put the apostrophe after the plural name if something is owned by more than one person in the family:
I love the Joneses' new house.
The Smiths' Christmas card was lovely this year.
The Meyerses' Rottweiler is friendly.
If you are one of those families that included an inappropriate apostrophe in their holiday cards, believe me, I'm still thrilled to have heard from you. Just don't confuse my sister any longer, okay?

1 comment:

  1. But it's even worse when it's carved in stone in a front yard:

    THE SMITH'S

    That which belongs to THE SMITH?

    ReplyDelete