How Many Presidents? Apostrophes with plurals

How Many Presidents?

How Many Presidents?

Today is Presidents’ Day. A quick Internet search for “presidents day” (without an apostrophe) reveals that some writers are using an apostrophe-S, some are using an S-apostrophe, and some are not using any apostrophe. Which is right?

The answer depends on how many presidents are being honored this day. The answer is 2. This day honors the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Why is this important?

When we create the possessive for a plural noun ending in “S”, the apostrophe goes after the final “S,” as in “Presidents’ Day.” If we use apostrophe-S, we indicate that the day is only for one president.

Presidents’ Day: more than one president, i.e., “presidents”
President’s Day: only one president, i.e., “president”

Here is another example of how this works.
“The cats’ toys are lost.” The toys belong to more than one cat, i.e., “cats.”
“The cat’s toys are lost.” The toys belong to only one cat, i.e., “cat.”

Where we put the apostrophe determines the meaning of the sentence. Its placement tells the reader whether we are writing about one thing or more than one thing.

Back to this holiday. Most reputable style guides prefer “Presidents’ Day.” These include the Chicago Manual of Style and the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language. The Associated Press Stylebook proposes using no apostrophe, but this could be because they are trying to reduce the number of punctuation marks in journalism writing, not because it is right.

 In no case is “President’s Day” correct because the day is honoring more than one president. Writing it this way indicates that the day is only honoring ONE president, which is incorrect.

(Quick update to this post. I was at Sears yesterday. They are advertising “President’s Day” [sic] specials. Whoops! See prior paragraph.)

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