Right now, as I’m writing this, we’re about three weeks away from Valentine’s Day. The day raises troubling questions for many people. What is love? Why does anyone bother? Should I bring candy for everyone in class? Will I even get a card?
American English seems to be designed to cause maximum confusion for its users, and most of our holidays seem to celebrate that. For many of our holidays, the apostrophe goes right before the “s.” Sometimes that feels like the sensible result. Certainly for Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, both of which celebrate a single person, it’s appropriate to use the singular possessive. Of course, the rest of the calendar is a little more complicated.
In May and June, we’ll find Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with their apostrophes indicating singular possession. I will confess that I had trouble with this for years. I’m always tempted to place the apostrophe after the “s,” for plural possession, because these two holidays represent all mothers and all fathers to me. Even within my own family, I celebrate no fewer than three fathers in June: my own father, my grandfather, and my brother, who is himself a father. I’m sure I’m not the only person in that position, but the apostrophe in Father’s Day gives the occasion to just one father — or one at a time. Mother’s Day is the same way.
February also brings us Presidents’ Day. The apostrophe in Presidents’ Day follows the “s,” so we know that the day is set aside for more than one president. Indeed, the third Monday in February is for two presidents; Abraham Lincoln and George Washington both had birthdays in February. Now, there’s nothing to stop the rest of our nation’s leaders from joining the party (and the sales), but it only takes two to move that apostrophe after the “s.”
Just to trip things up before the end of the year, November brings with it Veterans Day. There is no apostrophe in Veterans Day. We can blame the United States government for that. The government has decided that the word “Veterans” is an attributive noun, a noun that describes another noun, like the word “turkey” in “turkey sandwich.” I have no idea why this logic doesn’t apply to any of the holidays we’ve discussed so far, but that’s the federal government for you.
So where does the apostrophe go in your favorite holiday? Are you bringing candy for everyone in class? Sound off in the comments.
**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style every month. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.