Grammar

Is There an Apostrophe in Presidents Day? It Depends

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You’ve probably seen Presidents Day spelled with and without an apostrophe. But is there supposed to be one? It depends on whom you ask.

We celebrate Presidents Day — or “President’s Day” or “Presidents’ Day” — on the third Monday of February. But despite the variances in spelling, the day has a clear purpose. The federal holiday honors those who have served as the Chief Executive of the United States.

Presidents Day began as Washington’s Birthday, DaysoftheYear.com tells us. George Washington, our first president, was born on Feb. 22, 1732. Congress set the Washington’s Birthday federal holiday, appropriately enough, as Feb. 22.

Of course, when you base a holiday on an actual date, that date will fall on different days of the week each year.

Congress took steps to fix that problem with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which took effect in 1971. That act moved the Washington’s Birthday holiday from his birthday to the third Monday in February. It also renamed the holiday as Presidents’ Day. Note that Congress listed it with an apostrophe after the S.

So what happened to the apostrophe?

There is a good deal of disagreement about whether to use an apostrophe in Presidents Day and, if so, where it should go.

I write primarily in AP Style, the guidelines laid out in the Associated Press Stylebook. That’s the style guide newsrooms around the globe use to standardize how they write. That way, they can more easily share their content among AP members.

AP Style says you don’t use an apostrophe at all. So here, and in the real job, I don’t use an apostrophe. Simple.

But you’ll see it written as Presidents’ Day — with the apostrophe after the S — a good bit. The Chicago Manual of Style says it should be Presidents’ Day, despite the fact that the United States still considers it a “Washington’s Birthday” that has been expanded to honor other presidents.

Even though Washington’s Birthday had the apostrophe before the S, you shouldn’t write it as “President’s Day.” The day was meant to honor multiple presidents, so it doesn’t “belong” to any of them. Washington’s Birthday, on the other hand, is his specific birthday, so an —‘s makes sense there.

As for the Chicago Style choice of adding an apostrophe after the S, I wouldn’t agree with that on the grounds that it’s a day for the presidents, not one “owned” by them.

On the other hand, if the actual official government documentation lists it as “Presidents’,” then it should be written as it was defined, even in AP Style.

I’ve never claimed to agree 100% with AP Style. But while I might be able to cheat the rules here and there on this site, in the real job, I have to follow it, like it or not. If you follow AP Style, you’ll be stuck with “Presidents Day.” If you use any other style guide, “Presidents’ Day,” if you prefer it, should be fine.

Just make sure you’re following the style guide that is appropriate to your writing or your organization!

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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