Apostrophes in last names?
Does this picture make you shudder? It should. It shows something that many folks struggle with before deciding to just follow the herd. And we all know how that turns out, especially with lemmings, right?
So today I’m focusing on formatting house signs that tell others who lives in the house, although all kinds of signs can be so wrong (see below).
Many homeowners pay for signs that are incorrect, probably because that’s how the sign maker made it and they figure it must be right. But this is a perfect example of being smart in one area — sign making — but not necessarily in another — grammar.
Say a family named Smith lives in a house. How does adding an apostrophe show that the family has more members? The plural of Smith is Smiths. NOT Smith’s.
And if for some reason the Smiths wanted to use the possessive, they would have to use the plural possessive. To say the Smith’s live here makes no sense. One person is Susan Smith. Two or more persons with that last name are the Smiths. So, the plural possessive would be the Smiths’.
no possessive: tHE smiths
SINGULAR POSSESSIVE: “Susan Smith’s house”
PLURAL POSSESSIVE: “The Smiths’ house”
Are you with me so far? Smiths is easy enough, right?
But what about last names that already end in s, like Jones? Oh boy. That’s a difficult name to work with, but it doesn’t have to be.
NO POSSESSIVE: THE JONESES
SINGULAR POSSESSIVE: JOHN JONES’ HOUSE
PLURAL POSSESSIVE: THE JONESES’ HOUSE
So remember: For a house sign, you don’t want or need any apostrophe. Just the pure plural will work. It’s a shorthand way of saying “The Smiths live here.” Now, go out and look at YOUR house sign. That’s OK. I’ll wait.
Was it done correctly? Do you need to change it? And if anyone you know is a sign maker, you might want to show that person this post.
For more on apostrophes:
If my last name is Mekalson, my sign should say … Welcome to the Mekalsons’ because it is implying that we are welcoming them to our house, right?
Good grief, Dena — good for you! Hardly anyone understands using apostrophes in names, let alone plurals or possessives. And yes, you are right. If it was just your house, “Welcome to Dena Mekalson’s house” would be right.
I see far too many signs saying “Welcome to the Smith’s house,” or “The Smith’s,” which are just so wrong. Pat yourself on the back!
My name is Marcus. People love to write, for instance “Marcus’ House”. My problem with this is that’s not how an English speaker would pronounce that phrase. It would be pronounced “Marcuses” house–so the spelling should be “Marcus’s”. (I can’t think of a single case in English where an apostrophe implies pronunciation of a letter that’s not written.)
The page linked above (American Grammar Checkup: Apostrophes #4: Possessives) confirms this: “If the base word is singular, add an apostrophe and s.” Simple. So, “JOHN JONES’ HOUSE” should actually be “JOHN JONES’S HOUSE”, since Jones (like Marcus) is singular.
Sorry, I actually had a question and got sidetracked. How would you write about the house which belongs to Mrs. & Mr. Smith? Since we don’t refer to Mrs. & Mr. “Smiths” (in the plural), it seems we’d use the singular:
“MRS. & MR. SMITH’S HOUSE”
On the other hand, it’s a house which belongs to two Smiths, so
“MRS. & MR. SMITHS’ HOUSE”?
‘Tis a quandary.