Pet peeves, apostrophes, and plural family names

What's the difference between plural and possessive? When is it correct to use apostrophes when writing last names?

Pet Peeves

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. People [who] don’t use coasters.
  4. Keeping your Christmas lights up until February.
  5. People who dress their pets.
  6. Leaving the toilet seat up.
  7. Cracking your knuckles.
  8. Road maps that aren’t folded correctly.
  9. People who talk on their cell phone at the movies.
  10. 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. I can take or leave an incorrectly folded map. 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.

I have several—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”)

Do You Know the Johnson’s Johnsons?

One of these days I’ll write up a lesson on plurals vs. possessives. Today, let’s focus on family names.

Watch out when using apostrophes with 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!

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

Don’t use an apostrophe when you mean to make a plural.

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

The Whole Family’s Last Name

To show possession of a whole family: First, add -es or -s to write the family’s last name in plural form. Then, add an apostrophe at the end to show possession.

Right: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Joneses cat.
Wrong: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Jones’s cat.

Right: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths cat.
Wrong: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths’s cat.

MORE EXAMPLES

Single person: Mike Miller
Whole family: The Millers
Family’s Possessive: The Millers’ hamster (or the Millers’s hamster)

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

Put it into Practice: Want to give yourself (or your kids) some practice forming plural and possessive last names? Just pull out the phone directory, open to a random page, and give it a whirl! The more they practice forming plurals and possessives, the more natural it will become for them to do so correctly.

Your Turn

What’s your pet peeve (grammar or otherwise)? Share it in the comments!

Creative Commons photo: Matteo Parrini. Used by permission of photographer.

53 Comments

  • Posted April 5, 2012

    Andy Lutz

    One of my grammar pet peeves was heard on the radio this morning on my way to work. The traffic congestion following a very serious accident was referred to as a fatal investigation. I didn’t know that investigations could be that dangerous.

    • Posted May 20, 2016

      Glenn

      Is this correct? (Quiño’s clan)
      If u dnt mind sir can you teach me?

      • Posted May 20, 2016

        Kim Kautzer

        If Quiño refers to one person, then Quiño’s clan is correct. But if Quiño refers to the family as a group, it would be Quiños’s clan.

        • Posted August 16, 2016

          Kathleen

          Wait, now you’ve got me confused. Why isn’t it Quinos’ clan? Singular: Quino. Plural: Quinos. Plural Possessive: Quinos’…or not?

          • Posted August 16, 2016

            Kim Kautzer

            Kathleen: Some English reference books state that apostrophe + s (Quinos’s) is correct. Others say the apostrophe alone is correct (Quinos’).

            Both are, in fact, acceptable, though the more traditional way of forming a plural possessive would be Quinos’s.

          • Posted August 16, 2016

            Kathleen

            I still don’t understand why the second s is there. There’s only one s in your example for Miller and Sing. Why is Quino different?

          • Posted August 16, 2016

            Kim Kautzer

            OH! Now I understand what you’re saying, Kathleen. [blush] I need to go make a clarification, I see!

  • Posted April 5, 2012

    Chrissey

    My big grammar pet peeve is people who can’t seem to correctly use then and than. They mean two different things and are not interchangeable!!

  • Posted April 5, 2012

    Kim

    Andy: Funny!

    Chrissey: So true. I’m also grieved by misuse of its/it’s, your/you’re, and their/there/they’re.

  • Posted April 6, 2012

    Ingi

    People (and there seem to be a lot of them on Facebook) who confuse “lose” and “loose” – drives me batty!

    • Posted April 6, 2012

      Kim

      “Lose” and “loose” — that’s another good one!

  • Posted September 7, 2012

    Peggy

    If I hear one more person say “lay down” instead of “lie down,” well, I’ll just have to bite my tongue. Over the decades, somehow people have just stopped saying “lie.” You LAY carpet or bricks, you don’t “lay” down. Unless, of course, you’ve got some duck feathers that you’re setting down somewhere. “Lay” is also the past tense of “lie”.

    Another one for me is “broke” and “broken.” If something doesn’t work anymore, it’s BROKEN. If it’s “broke,” then I guess it’s out of cash?

    Thanks for letting me vent!

    • Posted September 7, 2012

      Kim

      And to piggyback on your own peeves, Peggy, I just read that it’s now acceptable to use “alright” instead of “all right.” Really? Say it isn’t so!

  • Posted January 27, 2014

    Jody

    Recently, I went to school to up grade my accidemic skills. There we covered Concreate nouns and abstract noun, along with common, proper collective, and compound nouns. Rather difficult to learn.

  • Posted January 27, 2014

    Kim Kautzer

    I hear you, Jody. Grammar can be confusing. It takes a lot of practice to master the different skills.

  • Posted April 12, 2015

    Cheryl

    I’m customizing a doormat, and they all say “Welcome to (next line) The Nicholsons.” Should there be an apostrophe in there, because it is actually an abbreviation for “The Nicholson’s home?”

  • Posted April 12, 2015

    Kim

    Cheryl: The example is correct—there should be no apostrophe. The plural of Nicholson is Nicholsons. Since your house is home to a number of Nicholsons, the doormat should be written with the plural form of your last name. Should you want to include an apostrophe, it would go after the /s/ (The Nicholsons’).

    CORRECT:

    Welcome to
    the Nicholsons

    Welcome to
    the Nicholson Home

    Welcome to
    the Nicholsons’

    Welcome to
    the Nicholsons’ Home

    INCORRECT:

    Welcome to
    the Nicholson’s

    Hope that helps!
    Kim

    • Posted April 12, 2015

      Cheryl

      Ah, yes, dumb mistake in my first ex. I meant short for “The Nicholsons’ home.” I guess “Welcome to the Nicholsons” just doesn’t sound right to me, but thanks for your response!

  • Posted September 29, 2015

    Grammar Snob

    So many people don’t know the difference between your and you’re. It’s ridiculous! It’s best to go by this rule: If you can substitute the word for “you are,” use you’re. If not, use your.

    Examples:
    “I saw your friend at the store.”
    “Let me know if you’re interested.”

    • Posted October 1, 2015

      Kim Kautzer

      I couldn’t agree more. We actually address the you’re/your dilemma in another post. It’s always a good reminder to use those apostrophes correctly!

  • Posted December 20, 2015

    Bo

    We have no doubt that we are the Williamses and we have some friends that we have no doubt should be called the Clemmonses. But they say that, because their name is Scottish, the plural should be only the “Clemmons” with no “es” on the end. Thus. if this were their message to you, they would certainly say that it was the Clemmons’ post and we would say it was the Clemmonses’ post. When does it matter that the name is of foreign origin? Or does it if we are speaking English? If we are speaking in English of the Jewish family, the Abrahamses, could it really be that they should be called the Abrahamsim or Abrahamim? Is Scottish really radically different from English? I thought it was more of a dialect of English.

    • Posted December 26, 2015

      Kim Kautzer

      Bo: Because I’m American, I write primarily to an American audience. Through the Internet, our blog reaches people around the world, but when I give grammar tips, I follow American grammar rules as much as possible. British grammar rules are often the same, but there are notable differences. I’m sure you can imagine that it’s easier all around if I stick to one set of rules.

      When the name is of foreign origin, the rules still apply. Don’t most American surnames have their roots in other countries and cultures? America is a giant melting pot, and we all ultimately hail from somewhere else. An American Clemmons or Abraham family may have Scottish or Jewish ancestors, but if they are American, then American grammar rules should apply.

  • Posted February 11, 2016

    Heather Ross

    My married last name is Ross. I have been searching the internet for the correct way to write “The Ross Family” without saying “family”. For instance, what is the correct way to sign off on a Christmas card from the entire family? Is it the Ross’s or the Rosses or the Ross’? Any help on this would be appreciated!

    • Posted February 26, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Heather: Sorry for the delayed reply. I’m not quite sure how I missed seeing your question.

      You would say “The Rosses.” (It might help to think of one boss, two bosses. One cross, many crosses. One Ross, a family of Rosses!)

  • Posted May 1, 2016

    Kim Knight

    This one is very annoying. I hear it constantly on all types of television programs.

    I seen it. I seen him. I seen her. I seen them.

    Why?

    • Posted May 2, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Kim: That one bugs me too!

  • Posted July 22, 2016

    J

    Hello, can you please assist me? On a personalized cutting board I can not fit “The”, so I am going to just have it say “Suarez Averys” Which one should it be? Averys, Avery’s or Averys’. Last name is Avery. Meaning our cutting board

    • Posted July 22, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Just to clarify before answering: Is the last name “Suarez Avery”? Is the first name “Suarez”? Is the cutting board going to belong to the “Suarez Avery” family? Is “Suarez-Avery” hyphenated? Thanks.

  • Posted July 24, 2016

    J

    My last name Suarez, my daughters last name Avery. :0)

    • Posted July 24, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      I’m not sure I can be very helpful. I’m guessing you want the cutting board to show that it belongs to both of you? You actually don’t need to make the last names possessive at all. If you had a sign on your front door, it could say “Suarez” or “The Suarez Family” or “The Suarezes.” Same for the cutting board. Here are your best choices,depending on what will fit:

      1. Suarez-Avery
      2. Suarez · Avery
      2. Suarez & Avery
      3. Suarezes & Averys

      My vote is for #2.

  • Posted August 25, 2016

    Greg painter

    Quick question. I have a company I am starting. My last name is painter , and I sell drill juice. I’ve already made stickers . is painter’s drill juice the correct way?

    • Posted August 25, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Hey, Greg! Yes, your stickers are fine. “Painter’s Drill Juice” is correct because the name of the company is singular: “Painter.”

      If you and your brother or dad were in business together, and the company name were plural: “Painters,” then you’d need to say “Painters’ Drill Juice.”

      • Posted August 25, 2016

        Gregory Painter

        Thank you for you’re time. I’m kidding with that one:)

        • Posted August 25, 2016

          Kim Kautzer

          You’re a funny guy! That made me chuckle.

  • Posted December 23, 2016

    Josh Langston

    I’m editing a manuscript about the first 100 years of baseball. In it, the author constantly uses an apostrophe when referring to a player or position on a team. For instance, “the Mohawks’ catcher.” I submit the apostrophe isn’t needed. He insists it is. If the team name didn’t end in “s” — the Stanford Cardinal for instance — there wouldn’t be a problem. It would simply be the Cardinal catcher, wouldn’t it? My thinking is that the apostrophe denotes possession, not membership.

  • Posted January 24, 2017

    Kim

    I am buying a clock for a couple who is retiring. The top will have their last name. Should it read “Bainum”, “Bainums” or “Bainums'”

    • Posted January 24, 2017

      Kim Kautzer

      I recommend Bainum. I ordered a wall plaque with our family name, Kautzer, and it looks great.

      Bainums would be okay, but if this is your choice, it would look better to put The Bainums.

      Either way, steer clear of Bainums’.

      • Posted January 24, 2017

        Kim

        Great advice, thank you!

  • Posted April 12, 2017

    Holly

    For a family T-Shirt for the Coles Family, would you write, Coles Family Vacation? It’s multiple Coles, but I’m thinking of it as a title, not that they posses the vacation. Thanks.

    • Posted April 12, 2017

      Kim Kautzer

      I agree with you, Holly. I also would write “Coles Family Vacation,” just as I would write “Smith Family Vacation.”

  • Posted June 14, 2017

    Kelly Ambrose

    I’ve ordered a print for a friend that reads
    The Gandy’s
    Est. 2009

    Is this correct?

    Also is this incorrect:

    Christmas at the Ambrose’s

    • Posted June 14, 2017

      Kim Kautzer

      Kelly: Unfortunately not. Hope it’s not too late to change your order! It should say The Gandys (no apostrophe). You’d only need the apostrophe if you wanted to make it possessive, such as The Gandys’ Home or The Gandys’ Place.

      For the second question, Ambrose’s only refers to ONE person, so “Christmas at Kelly Ambrose’s” is the only time Ambrose’s can work. Since you’re inviting people to the family home, any of these would be correct:

      Christmas at the Ambroses’

      Christmas at Bob and Kelly Ambroses’

      Christmas at the Ambrose home

  • Posted June 28, 2017

    JK

    John and Jane Rans’ anniversary party or John and Jane Ran’s anniversary party?

    Thanks!

    • Posted June 28, 2017

      Kim Kautzer

      Technically, it should be John and Jane Rans’s anniversary party, but Rans’ would also work. Just don’t use Ran’s! 🙂

  • Posted July 20, 2017

    M

    What if the last name ends in an “I”? Would it be Korduckis or Korduckies? So sorry, I am terrible with this rule.

    • Posted July 20, 2017

      Kim Kautzer

      That’s actually a great question! It would be Korduckis. If the last name ends in “y,” the same rule applies, so Kellys, not Kellies.

  • Posted 9 days ago

    Dan

    haha!! Yes this a a big pet peeve of mine as well and I just came across this… all the information here is correct by the way. I was looking up something the other day with the family name Romans and nowhere did I see the plural form written correctly! As crazy as it sounds the plural of Romans (as a family name) is Romanses and don’t hit me with any Gollum memes!! LOL

    • Posted 9 days ago

      Kim Kautzer

      Some of these can be so tricky, so no Gollum memes here, Dan. 🙂 Thanks for chiming in!

  • Posted 7 days ago

    Catherine

    The grammatically correct information here warms my heart! I have a last name (by marriage) that ends in S. I am completely aware that when we have a sign at our home is should read The Rosses. My grammatically-challenged in-laws think that it should read The Ross’s and that the correct version just doesn’t look right. I can’t roll my eyes [internally] hard enough. Hmff! They have several signs made incorrectly. I had a sign made for them as a Christmas gift that said The Ross Family. It makes me smile every time I see it. 🙂

    Here are a few I haven’t read yet:

    People that write… “alot” instead of “a lot”
    “alot a” or “allotta” instead of “a lot of”
    “wanna” instead of “want to”
    “them guys/things/people” instead of “those guys/things/people”

    I could go on and on but it’s better for my blood pressure if I don’t. 🙂 Then there is spelling… YIKES!

    • Posted 7 days ago

      Kim Kautzer

      You bring up some good ones, Catherine! It takes effort to learn and practice correct usage, doesn’t it?

  • Posted 7 days ago

    Catherine

    It does. I’m not perfect, but I try to be correct and precise wherever possible. It’s in my DNA. Ha!

  • Posted 1 day ago

    Mary

    I was taught by my professor that technically the only two names that end with S and and an apostrophe S to show possessive are Jesus and Moses. In other cases it is just an apostrophe. Jess’ shoes vs Jesus’s sandals

    • Posted 18 hours ago

      Kim Kautzer

      Thank you for weighing in, Mary. Rules can be confusing and daunting, especially when even the experts disagree!

      When writing biblical names that end in /s/ or /z/, many style guides still seem to recommend adding just the apostrophe (e.g., Jesus’ sandals or Moses’ staff or Artaxerxes’ wealth). I believe the Chicago Manual of Style now recommends adding ‘s in every case where a name ends in /s/ or /z/. I’ve found that customs of style evolve over time, so personally, I’m inclined to accept either as correct. My main concern is helping people realize that it’s never OK to write a singular possessive name (e.g., the Smith’s) when the intention is to make the plural name possessive (the Smiths’ or the Smiths’s) OR to write the singular possessive (e.g., the Smith’s) when they simply want to pluralize (e.g., the Smiths).

Leave a Reply