A wood table with a typewriter, book, notebook, and pinecone on top of it.


 The Diary of a Word Nerd

  • Grace Kidder

Holiday Card Dos and Don'ts

You've managed to get the whole family together and make everyone look decent for your annual holiday photo. Now it's time to sit down and write the text that will go on the card. But as you start to write, you find yourself trying to remember: How do I make our last name plural again? Is it "season's greetings" or "seasons greetings" or something else?

Assorted holiday cards on a wooden table with pens, a teapot, and a bowl of cranberries.

For many, the holidays are filled with family, friends, and good food. For proofreaders, however, they are filled with grammatical mistakes! We get cards from family and friends with extra apostrophes, misspelled words, and unchecked capitalization. Avoid these common errors when designing your holiday cards, or you could end up on a proofreader's naughty list.

Plural Last Names

This is perhaps the most common issue people have when it comes to holiday cards. When pluralizing a last name to say "Merry Christmas from the Smiths" or "Happy Hanukkah from the Cooks," it's really quite simple. Much simpler than people make it out to be. For most last names, all you have to do is add an s. No apostrophes! Apostrophes are for making something possessive, not plural. If you used Smith's, that would mean something belonging to a single Smith; similarly, Smiths' would signify that something belongs to multiple Smiths.

If your last name already ends in s, such as Jones or Williams, you add an es. Actually, this rule applies to any word ending in s, ch, z, sh, or x (fun fact: these are called sibilants). We automatically do this for words like beach (beaches), wish (wishes), or fox (foxes), but for some reason people can get a little fuzzy on the rules when it comes to names. It's probably because everyone's in a hurry and stressed out during the holiday season.

The only other "weird" rule about making a last name plural has to do with if your last name ends in y. Unlike with common nouns, you would not drop the y and add ies to make it plural, you would just add an s. So, Berry would become Berrys and Kennedy would become Kennedys. It looks a little odd, but I promise you it is correct.

Notice how none of these options for making a last name plural include apostrophes! (The same rule applies to making words like "holiday" plural—PLEASE don't title your card "Happy Holiday's!" Please. Just don't do it.) Remember, we're going for plural, not possessive. Everyone say it with me: Plural, not possessive! Plural, not possessive! Plural, not . . . Oh, no one's doing it with me? Cool, cool . . .

Seasons(?) Greetings

Is it "seasons greetings," "seasons' greetings," or "season's greetings"? This is another common error I see on holiday cards, social media posts, and even advertisements! The correct way to use this phrase is "season's greetings." To understand why, let's look at each variation. (Or, if you don't care about why, you can just take Merriam-Webster's word for it.)

"Seasons greetings" is incorrect because there is only one season you are referring to: the holiday season. Your greetings are also in reference to (or belong to) the season, so the phrase should be possessive. (Think about it—another way of saying the phrase would be "greetings of the season.") With "seasons' greetings" we fix the possessive issue, but it is still plural. So, "season's greetings," with a singular season and an 's to make it possessive, is the correct answer. Remember the chant I tried to get started with the last rule? You can reverse it for this tip! Possessive, not plural! Possessive, not plural! Possessive . . . Still no one? Darn it.

To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize?

I don't see this mistake quite as often as the other two, but it happens nonetheless. Words like "happy" and "merry" are not capitalized unless they are at the beginning of a sentence. They modify proper nouns, but they are not proper nouns themselves (they aren't nouns at all, they're adjectives!), so they do not get capitalized. Here are a few examples of correct and incorrect capitalization:

I hope these tips have provided some help as you begin writing your holiday cards. If you have any questions about topics other than the ones I covered here, please put them in the comments and I will gladly answer them!

Happy writing and happy holidays!

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