A Word, Please: Becoming possessive during the holidays

Every life has its milestones: the first day of school, getting your driver’s license, meeting the person you realize you want to spend the rest of your life annoying.

A few years ago, I passed a major life milestone: purchasing, for the very first time, a box of Christmas cards in January at 80% off. Then, this year, I passed an even bigger milestone: the December when you actually remember having bought Christmas cards back in January.

If my calculations are correct, there’s just one more major life milestone standing between me and the sweet hereafter: yelling at neighbor kids to get off the lawn. But between now and then, I have some holiday cards to write. And, because you probably do, too, it seems it’s time to once again talk about flubbed plurals and possessives on holiday greeting cards and how not to flub them.

You’re probably familiar with the mistakes I’m talking about: Happy holidays from the Garcia’s! Merry Christmas from the Jones’! Welcome to the Smithses!

These errors don’t just appear on Christmas cards. This is also the time of the year when people purchase personalized and engraved gifts, like welcome mats and placards that announce guests have arrived at the home of “The Miceli’s.”

To avoid messing up family names this way, ask yourself two questions: 1. Am I talking about more than one person? 2. Am I talking about something owned?

If you’re talking about more than one person, then you’re dealing with the very simple concept of plurals. In English, plurals of proper names are very easy to form: for most, you just add S. One Johnson, two Johnsons. One Meyer, two Meyers. Mr. Clark, all the Clarks.

Names that end in S, Z or similar sounds confound some people. But they’re easy, too: Just add ES. One Jones, two Joneses. One Gomez, two Gomezes. One Walsh, two Walshes.

And don’t let all the English language’s irregular plurals scare you. If you take child and make it plural, you get children. But if you’re talking about someone whose name is Child, the plural is simply Childs. If berry is a fruit, its plural is berries. If it’s a person, the brood of Mr. Berry is simply the Berrys.

When it comes to names, there are no irregular plurals — no tricks or curveballs or fancy special cases. You always just add S or ES.

Notice that the apostrophe has no place in these. Apostrophes don’t form plurals. They form possessives.

And if you actually want to make something possessive, that’s easy too. To form a possessive of any name, just add an apostrophe plus an S to the singular or an apostrophe alone to the plural.

So if you’re going to the house of Mr. Clark, just add apostrophe plus S: Mr. Clark’s house. If you’re going to the house of Mr. and Mrs. Clark, you’re going to the home of the Clarks, which is the Clarks’ house.

People can lose all sight of this when the singular name ends in S, but it’s really no more difficult. The house owned by Mr. Jones is Mr. Jones’s house (or Mr. Jones’ house in some style guides). The house owned by the Joneses is the Joneses’ house.

These may look more confusing, but they follow the same simple rules as the Clarks. Just start with your singular Jones. Make it plural: Joneses. Then make the plural possessive by adding just the apostrophe.

So for an embarrassment-free holiday, all you have to do is keep these rules in mind, and, of course, go easy on the eggnog.

JUNE CASAGRANDE is author of “It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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