December is winding down and before long we’ll be ringing in the new year. People will gather in cities all around the world, counting down as balls drop, fireworks launch, and a whole lot of loud cheering rings out into the midnight air.
It’s a time of celebration and reflection, full of hope for what the next year might bring. It’s also one of the most commonly misspelled holidays in the English language.
The confusion surrounding this annual celebration stems from the “s” at the end of it. An “s” at the end of a word is usually used to signify one of two things:
- The word is plural (which indicates there are more than one of it, and does not include an apostrophe).
- The word is possessive (which indicates ownership, and includes an apostrophe).
In the case of New Year’s, the correct spelling includes an apostrophe, because the term is possessive. The term “New Year’s” is short for both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In both cases, the “s” is there to indicate that the following word belongs to, or is possessed by, the New Year. New Year’s Eve is the eve (e.g. the day before) the start of the new year, and New Year’s Day is the actual beginning of the new calendar year.
What may confuse some writers (besides the fact that many people struggle to remember when to and when not to use an apostrophe in the first place), is the fact that there are two back-to-back holidays bridging the gap between two separate years. That sure sounds like multiple subjects, which might trick you into thinking the word should be plural. To understand why we don’t spell it as “New Years” (which would be plural) or even “New Years’ ” (which would be both plural and possessive), you must remember that we are only celebrating one new year, not two new years.
Yes, there are two different days (December 31st and January 1st), and yes, there are two separate years (the one that’s ending, and the one that’s beginning), but New Year’s Eve is only the eve of January 1st. It’s the day before the upcoming year, not the day before the upcoming year and the current year. If it were it would be plural, but that would be impossible; one day could not be both in the current year and before it!
Likewise, New Year’s day belongs to the year that has just begun, and not to the one before it. In either case, both holidays are referring only to one year (the new one), so neither is plural.Hopefully that clears up some confusion, but if not there is one little work around that can spare you the embarrassment of starting the new year off with a spelling error–just forget about the “s” entirely. Instead of wishing your reader a happy New Year’s Eve or a happy New Year’s Day, wish them a plain old Happy New Year. This is both a common phrase, and a convenient workaround should you forget how to spell “New Year’s” correctly. Best of all, you’ll be wishing that your reader is happy for the whole year, as opposed to just the one or two days that “New Year’s” implies.