Is There an Apostrophe in Presidents’ Day?

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.

Click here to learn more about apostrophes. You can try a practice activity here, and I’ve posted a presentation about apostrophes here.

Enjoy this wonderful holiday!

Presidents' Day

 Presidents’ Day


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