Monday, February 15, is Presidents’ Day, and many people will spend some time thinking about the accomplishments of our US Presidents.
Some people will also be thinking about that apostrophe: Presidents’ Day. Why does the apostrophe go after the “s” – and is it really necessary?
Let’s deal with placing the apostrophe first. The US government uses the apostrophe, but not everyone does. I just saw a Volkswagen ad for a Presidents’ Day sale that didn’t use the apostrophe. This is another example of our ever-changing language: Sometimes apostrophes disappear, and possessive nouns become adjectives.
But officially it’s Presidents’ Day. The apostrophe goes after the “s” because we’re honoring Presidents. If we were honoring a single President, it would go after the “t”: President’s Day.
Apostrophes are easy to do (despite what you may remember from school!). Spell the word, and put the apostrophe after the last letter. This trick will work every time.
teacher = teacher’s
teachers = teachers’
people = people’s
puppy = puppy’s
puppies = puppies’
Dan = Dan’s
Louis = Louis’ (or Louis’s)
Let’s go on to the second question: Why is the apostrophe necessary? The answer is that there’s an “of” hidden here: It’s really the Day of the Presidents. Any time you have an “of” idea, use an apostrophe: cat of Joan = Joan’s cat. Pay of a week = a week’s pay.
This may be different from what you heard in school. Teachers often say that apostrophes show ownership, but that can be misleading. For example, take a look at this sentence:
Don’t sit there: That’s Mary’s seat.
Chances are Mary doesn’t own that chair! But it’s the chair of Mary because she usually sits there.
Enjoy this wonderful holiday!