Headbloom Blog

What’s Up With Plurals, Apostrophes, and Last Names?

A Japanese friend wrote:

When we refer to a family, we put “the” in front of the family name and “s” at the end of the name. For example, when we refer to your family, we say “the Headblooms.”

What is the rule for last names ending with “s” (e.g. Burns)? Is it “the Burns” or “the Burnses”? I asked around and found that there are three groups of people. Two voted for the above two and the other for “the Burns’” which I know is not right.

Some of the people I asked got frustrated and told me that I should use “the Burns family.” This is a good answer, but did not answer my question.

A perfectly correct welcome mat (from maildropbox.com)

Here’s my response:

You can’t trust Americans (just because they’re native speakers) for this answer. Most of them were sleeping during punctuation lessons in high school English class.

1. The following five examples are all correct.

  • the Burnses = the Burns family
  • the Dalgleishes = the Dalgleish family
  • the Thomases = the Thomas family
  • the Suzukis = the Suzuki family
  • the Foxes = the Fox family

2. Never use an apostrophe UNLESS the noun is truly possessive.

WRONG: I went to visit the Smiths’ yesterday.
RIGHT: I ate dinner at the Johnsons’ (house).

WRONG: We rode with the Andersons’ to the play.
RIGHT: We got a ride in the Crossmans’ car.

WRONG (on a mailbox): The Jones’ or The Jone’s or The Joneses’ (This means, “The Jones family owns this mailbox.” )
RIGHT: The Joneses, The Blacks, The Svensons

Hope this helps,

(from gravatar.com)


Ready for a test?
Not being able to leave well enough alone, I decided to create a little exercise, so my friend (and you) could test your ability to use Ss and apostrophes correctly. Which of the following pictures are correct? (Answers are given below, but don’t peek!)

a. image
(from etsy.com)

b. image
(from tjsunlimitedky.com)

c. image
(from homedepot.com)

d. image
(from parpool-spa.com)

e. image
(from polyporchrails.com)

f. image
(from jackorama2.com)

g. image
(from prettygoodgoods.com)

h. image
(from marketworks.com)

i. image
(from celticshamrock.com)

j. image
Hard to read: HENDERSON’S (from maildropbox.com)

k. image
(from tjsunlimitedky.com)

l. image

m. image
(from homedepot.com)

n. image
(from celticattic.com)

o. image
(from winevine-imports.com)

The following six signs are correct:
a, c, d, f, g, k
This means many sign companies need to send their proofreaders back to school!

Alan Headbloom