Tag Archives: using apostrophes

Presidents Day? President’s Day? Presidents’ Day? How Do You Spell the Upcoming Holiday?

We’re all counting down to the upcoming three-day weekend, but many of us don’t know how to write the name of the holiday on Monday correctly. Is it Presidents Day? How about President’s Day? Presidents’ Day? Well, it all depends on whom you ask.

Most dictionaries and The Chicago Manual of Style favor Presidents’ Day. The apostrophe at the end of the word indicates a plural possessive: It’s a day that belongs to multiple presidents. But the AP Stylebook—perhaps taking its cue from Veterans Day—favors Presidents Day, as in a day of more than one president. You could maybe make an argument for President’s Day, but no official reference book will back you up on that. Why are there two “correct” ways to spell the holiday? Believe it or not, Presidents’ Day (which, as a Chicago Manual enthusiast, I will choose to spell with an apostrophe at the end) is not an official holiday.

The federal holiday is called Washington’s Birthday; the term Presidents’ Day was popularized by marketers seizing on an occasion for a sale. The presidents it refers to are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both had birthdays in February.

Washington was born on either February 11, 1731, or February 22, 1732, depending on whether you use the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar (both were in use at the time; we use the Gregorian calendar now). Many states started celebrating his birthday on February 22, 1832, in honor of the centennial of his birth. It was made a federal holiday in 1879.

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Since 1922, it’s been a tradition to lay a ceremonial wreath at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on his birthday, and many states celebrate it as an official holiday. But it has never been a federal holiday.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act, enacted in 1971, moved several holidays to designated Mondays to give citizens fixed three-day weekends. Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in February, ironically ensuring that it would never fall on his actual birthday. Since it was now within a week or so of Lincoln’s birthday, many businesses squashed the holidays together. And that’s why we’ll be enjoying Presidents’ Day, plural possessive, or Presidents Day, with no apostrophe, on Monday.

National Punctuation Day Celebration: Apostrophes

Today (September 24) is , the celebration of correct punctuation. In honor of the occasion, I penned an ode to the apostrophe—when to use it and, more importantly, when to leave it out. The post is over at Sin and Syntax, an excellent resource for writers. Here’s a taste:

The apostrophe has been giving writers trouble ever since it first appeared in English in the 16th century. In this century, stray apostrophes became so irksome in documents of the English town of Nottingham that its City Council instituted an “.” (Every time a staffer made an error with this curvy little mark, he or she had to put £1 into the box, with proceeds to go to charity.)

Let’s vs. Lets

Since the name of this blog is Let’s Just Be Clear, I figured I should start by highlighting a commonly confused pair of words: let’s and lets.

Let’s is a contraction of let us, an imperative phrase that people use to make or respond to suggestions. The apostrophe is there to indicate that some characters have been omitted (in this case, the space and the u).

Let’s go to the movies.
Let’s pretend we’re kangaroos.
Let’s eat breakfast food for dinner.

Lets is a verb that usually means allows or permits.

He lets his dog sit on the couch.
Jacob works hard all week, but on the weekends he lets it all hang out.
The judge lets criminals off easy.

I have a few tricks for figuring out whether to use let’s or lets. The first thing to check is where the word appears in the sentence. Let’s usually starts a sentence, and lets usually comes later, as in the examples above. This is not a foolproof test, though; there are exceptions both ways:

Don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves.
Lets his lawn grow for months without cutting it, does he? That’s not very neighborly.

Another test to try is to plug in let us and see if it works. I like to imagine it in my snobbiest accent:

Let us adjourn for the day.
Let us imagine we could start all over again.
X My roommate just let us the dishes pile up.

You can also try substituting allows [… to]:

✓ Some people handle rejection well, but Sophia allows it to get to her.
✓ Our boss allows us to leave early on most Fridays.
X “Should we get started?” “Yes, allows to.”

Whenever you are unsure of whether to use let’s or lets, try these tests, and you’ll probably quickly find the correct spelling.

Knowing when to throw in an apostrophe and when to leave it out is hard for many people, and I’ll address the broader issue and other examples in future blogs.

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