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Don't ruin your holiday card with a misplaced apostrophe

This woman won't let apostrophes stop her
This woman won't let apostrophes stop her

Holiday cards are lots of work. Family photos have to be taken while standing amid the most beautiful field that can be found. Cards have to be designed and ordered. All those envelopes need to be stuffed and sealed, stamped and addressed.

That makes the holiday season a prime time for grammar mistakes. Everyone is busy wrapping presents, instead of proofreading. This means mistakes get made. And apostrophes are the epitome of those mistakes. Like mistletoe, they hide, waiting, ready to destroy your holidays. Don't let them.

Here's a quick guide to when (and when not) to use apostrophes on your Christmas card:

1. It's versus its. Help me.

baby its cold

This sign should say "Baby it's cold outside" (Apostrophe Abuse/Pinterest)

This one's easy to mess up, so make sure you triple check:

  • "Its" is used to show that a non-gendered item possesses something. Example: the mistletoe lost its bow
  • "It's" is a contraction that smushes together "it" and "is" to make "it's."

Easy trick: always write it is first and go back and add the apostrophe if need be.

2. Pluralizing your family name

The easiest way to sign a holiday card is to sign as the entire family, instead of writing out every single name of every single person your friends ideally already know. But beware: plurals don't have apostrophes. It's not "Happy Holidays from The Murphy's." It's "Happy Holidays from the Murphys."

Here's a helpful chart from Kate Brannen, a writer and blogger, to help you know whether to add an -s or -es to your name:

plurals chart

Chart from

And remember, because we cannot stress this point enough: making your new name a plural is acceptable, so long as you don't add an apostrophe. Family names do own things — dogs, refrigerators, ideas — but when signing Christmas cards, families don't possess anything. No apostrophes needed!

3. How to avoid apostrophes all together

The easiest way to avoid an embarrassing apostrophe mistake is to just avoid them all together. There are three easy ways to do this:

  • Stop making "it is" a conjunction. Just write out "it is." It will be fine.
  • If you can use a gendered possessive pronoun, why not? Instead of writing "the dog lost its bone," you could say "The dog lost his bone." Also: why are you providing such a detailed account of your dog's day-to-day life in your holiday letter? You may be overthinking this.
  • Don't make your family name plural. Just call yourself The McDreamy Family or The Pope Family. That's perfectly acceptable.

Apostrophes are out to get you. So let's all stay on guard. Be alert to keep apostrophes from ruining your holidays with their bad behavior.

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