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Presidents' Day, Presidents Day, or President's Day?

February 19, 2015

Last Monday (Feb 16) was Presidents' Day in the US. While I was editing a post on our American Presidents lessons, I wanted to double-check the capitalization and punctuation for this holiday. A Google search revealed disturbing results: Presidents' Day, Presidents Day, and President's Day were used almost equally! So which version is correct, and how can we explain it to our students?

Other Holidays

If you consider other holiday names, such as Mother's Day, Beatles Dayand April Fools' Day, it's easy to see where the confusion comes from. Even reference books sometimes disagree; for example, Merriam-Webster (American English) prefers April Fools' Day, while Oxford Dictionaries (British English) prefer April Fool's Day. Often it depends on how you want to look at it. Is it a day for one fool (April Fool's Day) or all fools (April Fools' Day)? Both are acceptable. Is it a day for our own mother (Mother's Day) or all mothers (Mothers' Day)? Again, both make sense, though we tend to focus on our own mothers.

Some holidays are a bit less complicated. Is it a day belonging to the Beatles (Beatles' Day) or a day about the Beatles (Beatles Day)? In this case, Beatles Day makes more sense. St. Patrick's Day celebrates one saint, as does Valentine's Day. But what about Martin Luther King Day—why not Martin Luther King's Day? Often the holiday name gets chosen and becomes the 'correct' way—it doesn't matter if other ways make sense too. It sure can lead to many errors made by both English language learners and native speakers!

Presidents' Day

The correct capitalization and spelling of this holiday is Presidents' Day. Explain to students that this holiday now honors more than one president, so we can't write President's Day. But what about Presidents Day? This choice isn't so easily dismissed. If we use our Beatles Day analogy, then we write Presidents' Day because it is a day belonging to the presidents (specifically, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln) more than a day about the presidents. But the concrete proof is in the reference books! Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style both list this holiday as Presidents' Day, so that's what I would teach my students.


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Comments (5)

Florence B.(Teacher)

I am looking for a simple Low Beginner Presidents’ Day lesson. I can’t find anything.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Hi Flory,
Surprisingly, I don't think we've ever had a request for a lesson on Presidents' Day! We'll add this to our to-do list. I'm also curious about the origin of this day. Thanks for writing in!
~ Tara

Reply to Comment

Tiffany L.(Teacher)

Yes, please do!

Dona K.(Teacher)

Yes, I'm with Florence...and I was so sure I had downloaded a Presidents' Day lesson from here before, but nope. Too bad, it'd be a great resource to have.

Reply to Comment

Mjoy G.(Teacher)

I agree. It'll be wonderful to have a Presidents' Day resource. :)

Reply to Comment
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