Greeting Card Grammar

Make sure your cards and yearly newsletters are written right this year.

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #86


The holidays are upon us, so it's time to answer questions about how to write greeting cards and party invitations. Here's Elaina:

Hi. I have a question about the plural form of last names. For example, if the last name is Alvarez, how do you say “the Alvarezes”? Do you use an apostrophe? Do you not use the s?

Making Words That End in S or Z Plural

To make names that end in z plural, you add -es to the end of the name. So you would say you are going to visit the Alvarezes — a-l-v-a-r-e-z-E-S. The same rule applies when names end in s, so the Joneses invite you to dinner — j-o-n-e-s-E-S. You don't use an apostrophe to make the names plural.
You use an apostrophe to make the names possessive. For example, let's say you went to visit the Alvarezes and then you wanted to write a letter telling your mom about their wonderful house. To make Alvarezes possessive, you add an apostrophe to the end, so you would write “Mom, you should have seen the Alvarezes' house!” 

So now you've got that: If a name ends in s or z, add -es to make it plural and an apostrophe to make it possessive.

Punctuating Salutations

Next, if you're writing a holiday letter, you might be interested in a bet that Laura and her husband John recently asked me to settle. Their question is how to write a salutation: How do you write something like “Hi, Squiggly”?
It seems straightforward, but it's not. Although most people seem to think that hi is just a friendly substitute for dear, it isn't. Dear is an adjective, but hi is an interjection just like the words indeed, yes, and oh.
So technically Hi, Squiggly is a complete sentence that begins with an interjection, and an interjection at the beginning of a sentence is followed by a comma. So the correct way to write this is “Hi, Squiggly.” with a comma after hi and a period after Squiggly: Hi [comm Squiggly [perio. You could also put an exclamation point at the end, depending on how excited you feel about the greeting.
The problem is that almost nobody knows that greetings should be punctuated this way, so it looks weird when you do it right. In fact, it's extremely rare to see an e-mail salutation that uses a comma after the hi. I'm always torn about whether to use the comma. It is correct, but it seems a bit pedantic given the widespread use of the incorrect alternative – especially when you are replying to someone who has already done it the wrong way. Use your own judgment. I usually put it in, but you'll be in good company if you leave it out.

Dear Squiggly, (correct)

Hi, Squiggly. (correct)

Hi Squiggly, (widespread to the point of becoming acceptable)

Compound Possession and Apostrophes

Finally, we've talked about this before, but compound possession can come up in invitations, so I'll go over it again. Imagine that Aardvark and Squiggly live in the same house and they are inviting people over for dinner. The location you are inviting people to is Aardvark and Squiggly's house – with only one apostrophe s. Because they share the house, they share one apostrophe s.
If Aardvark and Squiggly live in different houses, and they are having a progressive dinner where they go from one house to the next, then the location on the invitation would read Aardvark's and Squiggly's houses. They don't share the house, so they can't share an apostrophe s. Both names need an apostrophe s: Aardvark's and Squiggly's houses.

That's all. Thanks for listening.

Grammar Gift Ideas
This week's podcast is sponsored by, well, me! If you're looking for a stocking stuffer, please consider Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing or The Grammar Devotional. They make great gifts for the teacher or language lover on your list.
If you want a different kind of gift, I've also created T-shirts with fun grammar slogans such as To Infinitives and Beyond.

Winter wonderland image. Christopher Michel at Flickr. CC BY SA-2.0.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.