The Apostrophe in New Year’s Eve

Many people – alas – think that apostrophes are random decorations in words. Nope! Those apostrophes signify an “of” relationship. So:

car of Don = Don’s car

job of Chris = Chris’ job or Chris’s job (you’re allowed to add another “s”).

Did you notice that I said “of” and not “ownership”? That’s why there’s an apostrophe in “New Year’s Eve”: it’s the Eve of the New Year. (New Year’s Day works the same way: Day of the New Year.)

The apostrophe always follows the last letter of the original word or name. That’s why it’s Don‘s car but Chris‘s job (or, as I prefer to write it, “Chris’ job.” (You can practice using apostrophes here.)

Some self-proclaimed but mistaken grammar experts may try to tell you that apostrophes have to be reserved for actual ownership. According to them, you can’t write “the dog’s leash” or “a week’s pay.” I once heard an uninformed expert argue that expressions like “the tree’s bark” and “the building’s age” were new (and suspect) usages.

Nope again. Take a look at the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which dates back to 1814. The first stanza has three “of” usages with apostrophes:

the dawn’s early light (early light of dawn)

twilight’s last gleaming (last gleaming of twilight)

rocket’s red glare (red glare of the rocket)

Best wishes for 2018!


8 thoughts on “The Apostrophe in New Year’s Eve

  1. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    It could have been! But people didn’t like those names, and so it’s Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving Day. Names are invented by the people who use them.

  2. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you wondering why there’s no apostrophe in Pikes Peak? The answer is that apostrophes often disappear over time. Walgreens no longer uses an apostrophe – and it’s been dropped from Veterans Day.
    Pikes Peak is located in Pike National Forest, so an apostrophe would make sense. But – as often happens – it’s been lost.

  3. AvatarDave Norman

    The US Board on Geographic Names “has discouraged the use of the possessive form” since 1890. There are, at present, five names in the US with apostrophes in them: Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Ike’s Point, New Jersey; John E’s Pond, Rhode Island; Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Arizona; and Clark’s Mountain, Oregon.

  4. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    I didn’t know this! Thanks for the information, Dave. I’m going to use this – with your name – in a future post. Please let me know if you’d prefer that I not include your name! Happy 2020.

  5. AvatarDoc Solammen

    Proper nouns ending in “s” require an apostrophe “s”. It’s not Chris’, it’s Chris’s. Had Jesus owned a Buick, it would have been Jesus’s Buick, not Jesus’. This is a hard rule. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has no bearing on proper English. The rules of language don’t change because of liberal idiocy.

  6. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Doc!
    I revised this post. I put Chris’s Buick first and added that I prefer Chris’ Buick. Thank you for pointing out the omission!
    Actually the rules of English do change, and it has nothing to do with politics. Rules change when the people who speak English decide to change them.
    For example, we all use “is” for singular nouns and “are” for plural nouns. But then there are sentences like this one: “John, you are a wonderful neighbor.” John is one person. Why do we use “are”?
    The answer is that beginning in Shakespeare’s time, people who spoke English got tired of the intimate second-person singular pronouns (thee/thy/thou). Keeping track of when to say “Thou art” and when to say “You are” became tiresome. Many people began using the plural pronoun (“you”) even when talking to one person.
    Today, the only place you’re likely to hear “thou art” is in church.
    I am far from the only person who doesn’t want to be bothered with “Chris’s Buick.”
    You might find this interesting: Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style treats possessives of ancient names differently: it endorses Jesus’ and Moses’ (without the additional s).
    Here’s another example: the singular “they” (“If someone needs a ticket, they should go to the office”) was standard English from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Caxton used it, and so did many other respected writers.
    But in the 18th century, an American attorney named Lindley Murray decided that English should be more mathematical. (Luckily he didn’t seem to notice that problem with “you are”!) Murray wrote a book declaring that the singular “they” was wrong. Alas, it was a bestseller. Educated people began using “he” as a singular indefinite pronoun: “If anyone needs a ticket, he should go to the office.” (I was taught that usage in high school in the 1960s.)
    Over time “he” gave way to “he or she”: “If anyone wants to return his or her purchase, he or she should bring his or her receipt to the store in his or her neighborhood.” (Gack.)
    Today many people (I’m one) are swinging back to the singular “they” – which never really disappeared from English anyway.
    If you want to argue that old rules are the right rules, you have to use the singular they, along with many usages like thou art that have died out.
    Beware of declaring that you know what constitutes “proper English.” Often it’s more complicated than you might expect.

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