I feel so blessed every year to open so many Christmas cards from friends and family all over the country and world… But there is one tiny sticking point for me as the cards start to pour in each December: the dreaded apostrophe. Actually, to be fair, I’m fine with apostrophes: it’s their misplacement in people’s family names on Christmas card addresses that gives me pause. *sigh* What’s a slightly nerdy girl to do?
Well, this nerd thought you might appreciate a little grammar lesson for when you address your own Christmas cards…
Unless you have already mailed them, in which case, you might want to stop reading immediately in case you discover any mistakes when it’s already too late.
Okay, anybody left? Yes? Good, let’s proceed…
1. When a family name is pluralized, you almost always simply add an “s.” So you send a Christmas card to the Smiths, the Kennedys, the Grays, etc. When a family name ends in s, x, ch, sh, or z, however, you form the plural by adding -es, as in the Finches, the Joneses, the Maddoxes, the Wimbishes, or the Rodriguezes.
2. When a last name ends in an “s” that makes a hard “z” sound, though, the water can become a little more muddy. Sometimes you add nothing to form the plural. For example, with the name Jennings, you would say “the Jennings are an awesome family” (not the Jenningses), or “I think the Silvers are great” (not the Silverses). So how do you know whether to add the “es” or nothing?? Well, the general rule of thumb with these names is to write whichever sounds more comfortable to you… And you will probably not be smacked on the fingers with a ruler by anyone, not even a recovering grammar nazi like myself. And if you find yourself wrestling even with that choice (the Stephens vs the Stephenses, for example), you could always just avoid the topic altogether and simply address the card to “The Stephens Family.” [Of course–to chase a bit of a rabbit trail–the word family is traditionally associated with a household consisting of both parent(s) and child(ren), so is this title still okay for a married couple without kids or empty-nesters? Hmmm… Perhaps that’s more politics than grammar: not my forte!] 😉
3. Moving on! If a name ends in “y,” you do not change the “y” to “i” and add “es” like you would with many common nouns. The Shelly family does not become “the Shellies.”
4. Similarly, if the person to whom you are addressing the card happens to have a name like Wolf or Leaf, you do not make it “Wolves” or “Leaves.” Now that’s just silly!
5. But whatever you do, please do not form a family name plural by using an apostrophe; that device is reserved for creating possessive forms. When I receive a card addressed to “the Clem’s,” I wonder which Clem is THE Clem, and I wonder which Clem’s what??
Oh gracious, friends! I hope you know I do not go to the mailbox with a red pen in hand! I do actually sincerely love receiving all your delightful cards, letters, and photos each December! I’m just a nerd sitting at the cool kids’ table, hoping to be of some assistance.