By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Every year, without fail, there’s a misplaced apostrophe on some family’s holiday card. Someone writes “Love, the Smith’s” when it really should say “Love, the Smiths.”

“People break these rules all the time,” says Juan Li, a linguistics professor at the University of St. Thomas. “You don’t use the apostrophe to pluralize your last name, you use the apostrophe only when it’s a possession.”

For example, a possessive apostrophe is used to describe the Brown’s dog or Juan’s brother. Apostrophes are also appropriate for contractions like don’t, we’ve or they’re.

Li says if a family’s name ends in –s, –sh, –x, –z or some variations of –ch, then a writer should add an –es to pluralize the name.

“It’s for those hissing sounds you produce,” she says.

But, if a family’s last name ends in –y, then just add the regular –s. There’s no –ies.

“We treat our names slightly differently than other words,” she says. “(With the English language), there are always those oddities.”

Heather Brown


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