A Nitpicker’s Guide to Fixing Common Writing Gaffes

Before you write another batch of holiday cards or emails, consider these common gaffes so they don’t creep into your messages. Keeping them in mind will ensure your greetings will be even more thoughtful. 

1. Touch up “Tis”

The correct form is ‘Tis, a contraction of “it is”, thus requiring an apostrophe. ‘Tis was commonly used in the past, so keep its correct spelling during the holidays.

2. Know your audience

Know when “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Hanukkah”, among others, is the appropriate message to communicate.

3. Drop the “Please” from “RSVP”

Before writing “Please RSVP” on the invitations for your holiday party, recall that the abbreviation stands for the French phrase, répondez s’il vous plaît, which literally translates as “Respond if you please”. The polite form of request is thus already included in the initialism. So, “Please RSVP” means “Please respond please”!

4. Give your regards to the Joneses (or the Jones family)

“The Jones’s” is not the plural form of the last name, but the possessive, as in “the Jones’s sled”. Usually, simply adding an “s” to the end of a name will make it plural (“the Trumps”). But names ending in “s”, “x”, “z”, “ch” or “sh” require “es” to be added. A little practice:

  • The Smiths, the Wilsons
  • The Marshes, the Foxes, the Gonzalezes and … the Joneses

5. Know when to be possessive

The apostrophe is no pushover. When we extend greetings of the season, they’re “Season’s Greetings” (not “Seasons Greetings”). The possessive apostrophe is thus needed. Same for “New Year’s Eve”. It’s not “New Years Eve”, as it’s the eve of the new year, so the possessive of “New Year” is required.

6. Know when not to be possessive

It’s “Happy New Year”, not “Happy New Year’s”.

7. Do as the Romans do

“Merry Christmas” is used in the United States. “Happy Christmas” is the expression in the United Kingdom and Ireland. (In British English, “merry” is also a polite word for “slightly drunk”, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.)

8. Know your capitals

As a well-known stand-alone phrase, and given that “Christmas” is a proper noun, both words in the greeting “Merry Christmas!” are capitalized. But in the good tidings, “Wishing you a merry Christmas”, the word “merry” is a simple adjective, so it’s written in lower-case letters (as is “Looking forward to a white Christmas”). And likewise, write “Happy New Year!” but “Have a happy New Year”. And when referring generally to the year, the correct form is without capitalization: “the new year” and “a new year”.

9. Check the spelling twice

The Quayle family (Dan Quayle was Vice-President of the United States from 1989 to 1993) once sent a holiday card with the message: “May our nation continue to be the beakon of hope to the world.” The misspelling “beakon” wasn’t corrected. Save yourself any awkwardness and make sure your greeting does not include any mistakes!

10. Make a list and [also] check it twice

Santa was not wrong to be diligent and “check it twice”. Today it’s as important as ever: check the names of the card recipients, not just so the mail gets delivered to the right people but because for the receivers, the only way to spell their name is correctly.