Though I usually behave myself, today I reached the tipping point when I read the address on a bank statement that came in the mail. It is addressed to the Merkles in care of “The Wilson’s.” So which Wilson is this referring to? And this Wilson’s what? His house? His mail box? It should simply say Wilsons. That’s we. No apostrophe needed.
I adore grammar. Desiring to be a good citizen, I normally suppress any desire to correct others without an invitation. But this time I was sorely provoked. If you look around on advertisements, addresses, house signs, invitations, and any other place where people write words without an editor, you will see the careless misuse of the apostrophe.
My eighth-graders used to have a contest in the spring where they searched for typos of all kinds all over town. They found dozens of appalling mistakes, and the apostrophe was one of the big offenders. Once you start noticing, you will spot their misuse everywhere.
Okay, so here is the rule. Plural is not the same thing as possession. The apostrophe is not used to indicate plural except in the case of numbers, letters, and words used as words. Do you know your ABC’s? How many 9’s are in your phone number?Â Your sentence has six me’s in it.Â But years do not need the apostrophe: Was your dad born in the 1920s?
Names bring lots of confusion to this game called grammar. If your last name is Smith and you want to hang your name on a fence or outside your door or print it on the doormat, you certainly may. It is a free country. But you must do so at your own peril, resisting all urges to throw apostrophes around your name. So here are your options. You could hang a sign that says Smith. That is, after all, the family name. But maybe you are concerned that people know that there are many Smiths who live in this house. Then feel free (though I wouldn’t) to hang a sign that says Smiths. But do not, under any circumstances, hang a sign that says Smith’s or Smiths’ unless you plan to follow the name with a noun. If you are one lone Smith, you could write Smith’s House. If you have a house full of Smiths, you could write Smiths’ Residence. The only urge I beg you to resist is that of throwing an apostrophe on the end and leaving it hanging out there dangling in the breeze.
Now if you are one of those unfortunate folks with a family name that already ends in s, then you have a more complicated situation. Let’s say your name is Lucas or Jones. My opinion is to engrave the boulder on the edge of your yard simply with the name Lucas or Jones. Otherwise you will need to write Lucases or Joneses. And that’s weird. If you are sending out an invitation to a party, be oh-so careful with the wording.Â Where is this party? At the Lucas home or the Jones home. Not the Lucas’ home and not the Jones’ home. Could be the Lucases’ home, but do you really want to go to all that trouble? Maybe say something like this: “The Jones family is throwing a party and would love to see your little fat face at the proceedings.”
And since I am clearing the air, I may as well jump up and down about one more thing. Don’t tell people that you feel badly. You may feel bad about many things, but if you feel badly, that means that your nerve endings are damaged.
Okay, I hope we are still friends after this little rampage.