Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Family Names

Jenny’s question: “Would you please comment on the use of apostrophes in names on plaques outside family homes. I see many of these signs that use the family name with an apostrophe as in The Wilson’s. Is this correct? This usage makes me think that the house belongs to The Wilson.

BizWritingTip response: You are absolutely right. The Wilson’s is wrong. It indicates that one person – the top Wilson of all Wilsons – possesses the house.

If you wanted to indicate it was a residence belonging to the Wilson family, it would be The Wilsons’. This indicates more than one person named Wilson possesses the residence.

If you wanted to simply indicate that a family named Wilson lives at this location, the plaque would read The Wilsons.

If the family name already ends in “s” (e.g., Thomas), then add an “es“ to make it plural.

The Thomases (A family with the last name of Thomas resides here.)
The Thomases’ (This residence belongs to two or more people who all have the family name of Thomas.)

If Wilson lived by him- or herself, the plaque would read Wilson’s (owns it) or just Wilson (resides there) depending on the interpretation you wanted to provide.

Wow — so many things to consider when you are driving down a cottage road or standing on a front porch.

2 replies
  1. Elizabeth Ramsay
    Elizabeth Ramsay says:

    I was wondering how to capitalize “To Whom it may Concern”

    Should everything be capitalized, should just To be capitalized or should it be as above.


    • Jane Watson
      Jane Watson says:

      Yes, the trend was to capitalize each word. But I would never use the phrase. It is outdated and is considered useless fill. Nowadays, if you don’t have a name, you would use a position. If you don’t even know that, then you delete the line completely and start with a subject line.


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