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Apostrophes and plural family last names

by | Apr 5, 2012 | Grammar & Spelling

Do you have a pet peeve?

You know, those annoying little things that don’t seem to irritate anyone else, but drive you positively insane?

I actually found a site— GetAnnoyed.com—that lists 500 pet peeves, including:

  1. People who whistle when they are happy.
  2. Greeting cards that throw sparkles, sequins or confetti on the hapless recipient.
  3. Keeping your Christmas lights up until February.
  4. People who dress their pets.
  5. Leaving the toilet seat up.
  6. Road maps that aren’t folded correctly.
  7. Things sticking out of drawers.

I admit that the items on this short list draw different reactions from me. I think it’s silly to dress a pet, for example, but I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve. An incorrectly folded map I can take or leave. And I don’t mind happy whistling at all!

No, for something to qualify as a pet peeve, it has to drive me absolutely batty. Nuts. Fingernails-on-a-chalkboard crazy.

Misplaced Apostrophes

I have several pet peeves—as do you (admit it). But let me introduce you to just one of them: the misplaced apostrophe.

The apostrophe has two uses: contraction and possession. Unfortunately, people are so totally confused that they’re always sticking random apostrophes where punctuation marks should fear to tread:

  1. In simple plurals, such as “No pet’s allowed” (should be “No pets allowed”)
  2. In family names when referring to the family as one unit, such as “The Wilson’s live there” (should be “The Wilsons live there”)
What's the difference between plural and possessive? When is it correct to use apostrophes when writing family last names?

Do You Know the Uchida’s Uchidas?

Watch out when using apostrophes with singular or plural last names! Grammar guides can differ on how to use apostrophes, but if you follow these rules, you’ll get it right.

One Person’s Last Name

To show possession of one person, add -’s.

Sarah Smith: Mitts is Sarah Smith’s dog.
Jared Jones: Heinz is Jared Jones’s dog.
Reid Roberts: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.

Last names that end in -s can be tricky!

Wrong: Arrow is Reid Robert’s dog.
Right: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.

Does Roberts’s look weird to you? Don’t worry—you’re not alone. Even if it LOOKS wrong, that doesn’t mean it IS wrong. Just follow the rules and you’ll be golden.

3. Don’t use apostrophes when you mean to make last names plural.

Wrong: The Smith’s also want a gerbil.
Right: The Smiths also want a gerbil.

The Whole Family’s Last Name

To show possession of a whole family:

  1. Add -es or -s to write the family’s last name in plural form.
  2. Add an apostrophe at the end to show possession.
SMITH | Jet belongs to the Smiths.
Wrong: Jet is the Smith's cat.
Wrong: Jet is the Smiths's cat.
Right: Jet is the Smiths cat.

JONES | Pip belongs to the Joneses.
Wrong: Pip is the Jones' cat.
Wrong: Pip is the Jones's cat.
Right: Pip is the Joneses cat.

BARRY | Tiger belongs to the Barrys.
Wrong: Tiger is the Barries' cat.
Wrong: Tiger is the Barry's cat.
Right: Tiger is the Barrys' cat.


Single person: Mike Miller
Whole family: The Millers
Family’s Possessive: The Millers’ hamster

Single person: Hubert Sing
Whole family: The Sings
Family’s Possessive: The Sings’ parakeet 

Single person: Gladys Sanchez
Whole family: The Sanchezes
Family’s Possessive: The Sanchezes llama

Single person: Mrs. Sanders
Whole family: The Sanderses
Family’s Possessive: The Sanderses’ goat

Practice Forming Plural and Possessive Family Names

Want to give yourself (or your kids) some practice correctly using apostrophes forming plural and possessive surnames? Visit a website that lists common last names and give it a whirl! Here are two to get you started.

>> Most Common Last Names in the US
>> 100 Most Popular Spanish Surnames

The more your kids practice forming plurals and possessives, the more natural it will become for them to do so correctly.

Need Extra Help?

Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, 11th edition

Do you or your teens need help with apostrophes, hyphens, or other confusing punctuation marks? The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is an easy-to-use reference book that can help you learn and understand basic but important grammar and punctuation conventions.