Mother’s Day or Mothers Day - Quick Lesson on Apostrophes

After Mother’s Day this past weekend, we’ve all seen enough adverts, posters, junk mail and retail signage to remind us of just where and how to spend our money spoiling mom. Of course, Mother’s Day promotional mailers and press releases were abundant too, but apparently the time for checking grammar was not.

In an email titled “Mothers should be Mother’s” (huh?), a well-known global skin care brand couldn’t quite decide which plural was correct, so they simply used them all. 

“This month we’re celebrating mothers’ everywhere…”

“The perfect gift for Mothers Day.”

And a little further in the email…

“The perfect gift for Mother’s Day.”

Ok, so not everyone is a grammar guru and apostrophes can be particularly tricky. But by nature, apostrophes tend to stick out, so here’s a quick lesson on how to use the darn things and get it right. 

There are several uses for apostrophes. They can be used to show the plural of an abbreviation, letters and numbers (there are two m’s in accommodation). They are also used in time expressions (one day’s leave). Here are the two other uses that I’ll focus on a bit more:

1. Apostrophes replace missing letters.
- We’re celebrating. (In full: we are)
- Don’t buy this. (In full: do not)

Please note that “it’s” is short for “it is” or “it has”. It is not the same as “its”.
- It’s been a great lesson. (In full: It has been a great lesson.)
- Its whiskers are long.

2. Apostrophes show possession.
- John’s coffee is great. (Whose coffee is great?)
- That shop’s flowers are fresh.

Before or after the s? This depends on whether the word is plural or singular. To show singular possession, put the apostrophe before the s. To show plural possession, put the apostrophe after the s.
- The cats’ bowls are empty. (Many hungry cats.)
- The cat’s bowls are empty. (One hungry and thirsty cat.)

The reason why so many people get it wrong is because there are several confusing exceptions. Plural words that don’t end in s have the apostrophe before the s when showing possession.
- The people’s poet.
- The children’s jackets.

Here’s another exception:
- James’ car is red. - Interestingly, James’s is also grammatically correct. It depends on whether you pronounce the word “James” or “Jamesiz”. The spell checker shows that James’s is incorrect though (and it just looks strange to me), so I prefer to stick to the first option.

As an example of people getting it wrong, here’s a piece out of a CV I received recently:

“Worked at a Candy flosss stand Andys’s Candy. Worker at Cathys’s gift shop. Worked as a manager for Ann’’s Beauty Salon.”

To learn more about apostrophes, here is a good grammar lesson that I used to check my facts for this post. :)

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6 Responses to “Mother’s Day or Mothers Day - Quick Lesson on Apostrophes”

  1. 1 Melissa

    Yay! Thanks Robynn you have just detailed some of my pet hates - amazes me how major companies just don’t seem to have the time to proof properly. I’m also picking up that a lot of people don’t understand basic apostrophe use - your vs you’re etc.
    Btw that CV example is a cracker!

  2. 2 Duncan

    Just wondering - surely it should actually be spelt Mothers’ Day…

  3. 3 Robynn

    @ Duncan: I’m so glad you brought that up. I was wondering about that same point when I wrote the post. I also found it a bit strange that the official spelling is “Mother’s Day”, which is singular possessive, as in “it’s my mother’s special day”. But considering that it’s a day for all mothers, I suppose it could also be grammatically correct to say “Mothers’ Day”. I’m not sure why the plural possessive is not the more widely used option?

  4. 4 steve

    You’re all forgetting that we’re not sure the meaning of the name is actually possessive! Consider it just simply a day to honor mothers…in plural. Not that it is a day belonging to mothers. Just as if we had a day to celebrate apples. It would be called Apples Day. Not possessive. Certainly that is a possibility. The only way to know for sure is to find the person who made the day up and ask if the name was to be possessive or not. If it is possessive, it would be with the apostrophe after the s, since it is a collective ownership of the day by all mothers.

  5. 5 Cate

    What about “Mothers are special” should that have an apostrophe?? I don’t think so but someone suggested that mothers should

  6. 6 Robynn

    @Steve: Thanks for your comment Steve, you raised a very interesting perspective, I’ve never looked at it that way.

    @Cate: I think your instinct is right. I wouldn’t use an apostrophe in that sentence either because there is no possession.

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