November 19, 2018

Why You Should Never Hyphenate Ly Adverbs

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A happily married couple is never a happily-married couple, at least not according to the major editing style guides. Here's why.

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Holiday Cards: Making Last Names Plural or Possessive
Posted by June on November 19, 2018
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Every year I write a column about how to make last names plural or possessive on holiday cards. This year, the advice comes in handy decision tree format. Just answer these simple questions to know whether you're visiting the Williams' house, the William's house or the Williamses's house. (Spoiler alert: It's the last one.)

1. Do you want to make a last name plural? If yes, go to question to 2. If no, go to question 6.

2. Does the name you want to make plural end in S, Z, Ch, Sh, X or a similar sound? If no, add S with no apostrophe. The Smiths, the Carters, the Wilsons. If yes, add ES. The Joneses, the Walshes, the Gomezes, the Williamses.

3. Does the name you want to make plural end in a vowel? If yes, don’t let that confuse you. Names that end in vowels do not have special rules for forming plurals or possessives.

If you feel an overwhelming urge to throw in an apostrophe because Medici with an S at the end seems to suggest a different pronunciation, like “Medi-sis,” resist that urge. Just add S with no apostrophe: Medicis, Casagrandes, Kowalskis, Ferreros.

4. Does the name you want to make plural end in a Y? If yes, that changes nothing. True, one berry and a second berry are two berries. But Mrs. Berry and Mr. Berry are the Berrys. Mr. O’Leary and Mrs. O’Leary are the O’Learys.

5. If you made a last name plural, do you now want to make it possessive, for example, to refer to a house that belongs to a family or a party being thrown by a family? If no, you’re done. Have a nice holiday with the Smiths or the Walshes or the Berrys.

If yes, you’re almost done. Just take that plural we formed in the previous steps and put an apostrophe at the end. The Smiths’ house. The Walshes’ New Year’s Eve party. The Gomezes’ daughter. The Berrys’ Christmas tree. The Williamses’ son. There are no exceptions.

All plural last names form the possessive with a simple apostrophe at the end. Now you can have a nice holiday at the Smiths’ house or enjoy the Walshes’ party or pig out on the Berrys’ berries.

6. Do you want to make a singular name possessive? If yes, add apostrophe plus S: Mr. Smith’s car. John Doe’s house.

7. Do you harbor some vague idea that there’s a special rule for names ending in X or Z? If yes, banish the thought. Max’s job is never Max’ job. Mr. Valdez’s house is never Mr. Valdez’ house.

8. Do you still not trust me on No. 7 because you’re absolutely sure you heard somewhere that words ending in X or Z get special treatment? You’re not crazy.

Over the years, lesser authorities have advocated special rules for these words. But those authorities never had much authority. The rules today are universal: Singular words that end in X or Z form their possessives with an apostrophe and an S: Alex’s house. Chaz’s car.

9. Do you feel confident in your ability to write out those holiday cards? If no, repeat steps 1 through 7. If yes, have a wonderful holiday.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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    June A.S.: Everything you said is right, but I'm not sure which comment you're directing it at. Are you getting confused by passive voice as it comes into play in these sentences? "I called him" uses the object pronoun "him" because, as you said, is an object. When you invert that sentence to say "He was called," it's not the same sentence structure. In passive voice, the object of the action (so to speak) is made the grammatical subject of the sentence. So "He was called" does, as you said, required the subject pronoun "he." I don't believe anyone said anything to the contrary.

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    A.S. WRONG! If "Whom was called into the office" is a question then it's the equivalent of asking "Him was called into the office?" which is obviously wrong. If it's a statement it's still wrong. Look, it's not difficult: Me, him, her, them and whom are objects. I, he, she, they and who are subjects. If the person in the sample sentence is the object (as indicated by "whom") then the office must be the subject but there's no verb for the subject, so the person must be the subject and is therefore who. Understand?

  • E-mail vs. Email

    June Punctuation rules for American English are indeed "always" put the period or comma before the closing quote mark. British style is as you described (that is, it follows a certain logic). But American rules are rooted in a printing convention that originated from aesthetics concerns. I'm quite confident that this American convention will go the way of the dinosaur. Wikipedia is proof: Their style is situational in the way you described. But for now, it's the rule: The comma always goes "inside," as does a "period."

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    June Oops. Fixing now. (Better late than never.)

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    JR "An" Not-So-Thrilling Typo?