GrammarPhile Blog

How to Write Your Family Name on a Christmas or Greeting Card

Posted by Sara Richmond   Dec 20, 2023 11:23:45 AM

PRN_Blogpost_12212023 (1)According to urban legend, plural words were invented by Grog, a caveman, in 12,000 B.C., to help him ask for more than one donut at his local coffee shop.

He added an “s” to emphasize his strong desire for a baker’s dozen, and the rest is history.

For those of you who weren’t alive during that time, here are the rules for pluralizing family names, beginning with the rules for pluralizing English nouns and proper nouns.

(If you’re an “I don’t care why, just tell me how” sort of person, then skip to the “Plural Family Names” section below. If you’re an “I want to know why so that I’ll always know how” sort of person, then read the whole shebang over the next four minutes of your life.)

Regular Plural Words

  • Add “s”: For most words, the plural form is made by adding an “s.”
    • Examples: horse – horses, dog – dogs, tree – trees, ladder – ladders, paper – papers, gnome – gnomes.
  • Add “es”: For plural words ending in the sound /iz/, add “es.”
    • Examples: dish – dishes, fox – foxes, match – matches, crash – crashes, pass – passes, bus – buses, quiz – quizzes.
    • Notice that we double the final consonant to protect the short vowel in some words (ex: fuse – fuses but fuss – fusses).
  • Words ending in “y”:
    • Consonant + “y”: For words that end in a consonant + “y,” change the “y” to “i” and add “es.”
      • Examples: berry – berries, mystery – mysteries, responsibility – responsibilities, bunny – bunnies, daisy – daisies.
    • Vowel + “y”: For words that end in a vowel + “y,” just add “s.”
      • Examples: alley – alleys, bay – bays, key – keys, decoy – decoys, essay – essays.
  • Words ending in “o”:
    • Vowel + o: For words ending in a vowel + “o,” add “s.”
        • Example: pistachio – pistachios.
    • Consonant + o: For words ending in a consonant + “o,” add “s” or “es.” (You may need to consult a dictionary to be sure.)
        • Examples: mosquito – mosquitoes, potato – potatoes, hero – heroes, piano – pianos, tomato – tomatoes.
  • Words ending in “f” or “fe”:
    • For words ending in “f” or “fe,” we usually change the “f” to “v” and add “es.”
        • Examples: wolf – wolves, knife – knives, loaf – loaves.
    • Some don’t change; in which case, you just add “s.”
      • Example: roof – roofs, chef – chefs

Irregular Plural Words

These plural words either have different endings altogether or they don’t change at all. This is sometimes because of their etymology. Are you going to have to memorize irregular plural words? Yes, and we’re sorry.

  • Alumnus – alumni
  • Vertebra – vertebrae
  • Child – children
  • Moose – moose
  • Foot – feet
  • Tooth – teeth
  • Ellipsis – ellipses
  • Woman – women

 Plural Family Names

The same rules for pluralizing common nouns apply here. But take into account that you would NOT change a last name ending in a consonant + “y” to “ies” or “f” to “ves.” For that reason, you’ll only be adding “s” or “es.”

  • Daly – Dalys
  • Mallory – Mallorys
  • Cho – Chos
  • Jamieson – Jamiesons
  • Nolf – Nolfs
  • Jones – Joneses

Take note (and say this out loud three times): An apostrophe is never used to form the plural of a family name.

Some of you are thinking, “But what about…?” Nope. Unless you’re talking about plural possessives. For example:

  • The Jeffersons live here. The Jeffersons, 123 Main Street, Mont Vernon, NH.
  • The Jeffersons’ home is the ugliest I’ve ever seen.
  • The Mays are out of town through Thursday.
  • The Mays’ dog is barking his head off and driving me crazy.

For names that end in “s,” resulting in the awkwardness of “Waterses” or “Rogerses” or other similar monstrosities, consider rewording your greeting. Examples such as “The _______ Family” or a series of your first names, “Nancy, Bartholomew, Theodore, and Alejandro Smithers,” work well.

In fact, you might want to avoid the issue altogether by signing greeting cards with “Love, from all of us (if you don’t know who we are by now, we’re not telling you).”

We’re kidding.

(These pluralization rules are based on the curriculum from All About Learning Press, which the writer used for years to teach English spelling and reading.)


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Topics: possessives of proper nouns

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