The holiday season brings opportunities for connection with loved ones. But tricky grammar rules around specific holiday phrases also bring opportunities for errors! Follow this grammar guide for the holidays, and soon you’ll agree that “'tis the season” for good grammar.
Commonly Confused Phrases
It’s easy to forget an apostrophe (or add an extra one) in a holiday greeting when you’re focused on the spirit of the season. But by identifying common mistakes in holiday phrases, you can make sure your tidings are as glad as possible. Here are several commonly confused phrases that you can confidently skate around this holiday season.
'Tis the Season
Ring any sleigh bells? This phrase is often attributed to the catchy lyrics of one of the holiday season's most treasured tunes, "Deck the Halls." But which is correct: tis or ‘tis?
- Correct: ‘Tis the season!
- Incorrect: Tis' the season!
You can steer clear of this common mistake by remembering 'tis is an old contraction for it is. Put the apostrophe where the “i” would go. Consider it the ancestor to the contraction "it's."
You may be surprised to know that Ebeneezer Scrooge never actually utters his dismissive holiday greeting in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He says “Bah!” and “Humbug!” but never together. Now that the phrase is a common part of our holiday lexicon, however, how should we say it?
- Correct: Bah, humbug!
- Incorrect: Bah humbug!
"Bah, humbug" needs a comma (or exclamation mark) after "bah.” Scrooge uses both words as interjections, which are set apart from the rest of the sentence with punctuation. Whether you use the phrase to dismiss holiday festivity or to make fun of a Scrooge-like person, it’s important to punctuate it the right way!
Once you know the correct way to say this phrase, you’ll notice how often well-wishers spell it incorrectly. It seems like “season’s greetings” and “seasons greeting” are interchangeable, but there’s only one correct answer:
- Correct: Season's greetings!
- Incorrect: Seasons greetings!
Don't be fooled by any signs that read "Seasons Greetings!" An apostrophe is required in "Season's" because it's showing possession over the greetings. The greetings "belong" to the season, so they're the holiday season's greetings.
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
It’s tough to know whether "it's" or "its" is correct when describing “the most wonderful time of the year.” But if you know your basic apostrophe rules, you’ll figure it out quickly.
- Correct: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
- Incorrect: Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
Although we tend to see "it's" and "its" confused on a regular basis, it tends to rear its ugly head even more around the holiday season, thanks to the classic song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." But rest assured, an apostrophe is required, because "it's" is a contraction for "it is."
Merry Christmas from the Murphys
This error might be the most common one of all. If you're scanning through fonts and wondering how to design your family holiday card, don't fall into the apostrophe trap.
- Correct: Merry Christmas From the Murphys
- Incorrect: Merry Christmas from the Murphy's
There’s never a need to include an apostrophe in this case. Your last name isn't showing possession over anything; it simply needs to be pluralized. Understanding the rules for possessive plurals can help you if you’re confused. But if you want to avoid the confusion altogether, send along your season's greetings from "the Murphy family."
RSVP by December 15
RSVP is an acronym for the French phrase "Répondez s'il vous plaît." In English, it translates to "Respond, if you please." You’ve probably seen “RSVP please” on a number of holiday invitations, but you may be surprised to see the correct version:
- Correct: RSVP by December 15
- Incorrect: Please RSVP by December 15
When you say "Please RSVP," you're technically saying "Please, respond if you please." Even though we're always taught to say please, this phrase is probably redundant. If you feel odd hiding the polite “please” in a French acronym, consider saying “Respond by December 15, please.”
Best Wishes, Hannah and Joe
You’ve designed your Christmas card and formatted the yearly newsletter. Now it’s time for the closing. You can choose “Best Wishes,” “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” – as long as you know how to punctuate it correctly.
- Correct: Best Wishes, Hannah and Joe
- Incorrect: Best Wishes Hannah and Joe
Without a comma, it almost looks like Hannah and Joe are sending themselves best wishes. Holiday correspondence follows the same rules as all letters and emails: include a comma before your signature, even when it’s on a Christmas card.
Wishing you a merry Christmas
It’s easy to see why people think that both words should be capitalized when they see “Merry Christmas” on signs and displays. But when you’re writing the phrase as part of an email or letter, it should be written like this:
- Correct: Wishing you a merry Christmas
- Incorrect: Wishing you a Merry Christmas
If you're just writing it as a sentence in a letter, don't capitalize "merry." It's not a proper noun, like Christmas. But if it starts the sentence (such as in “Merry Christmas to you!”) then you would capitalize “merry,” just like any word at the beginning of a sentence.
Happy New Year
Have you ever wished someone a Happy New Year, but second guessed yourself about whether it should be “New Year’s?” Here is the correct way to say it:
- Correct: Happy New Year
- Incorrect: Happy New Year's
Year isn't showing possession over anything. It’s confusing because in the phrases “New Year’s Eve” and “New Year’s Day,” “Eve” and “Day” belong to “New Year.” To steer clear of this common error, just stick with "Happy New Year" and you'll be safe and sound.
Good Grammar to You, and All of Your Kin
Grammar errors are annoying, but they shouldn’t distract from your holiday greetings. Clearing up these minor mistakes is a nice way to put the finishing touches on a holiday card or festive display. Once you’ve got the grammar basics down, choose the best ways to wish your loved ones a merry Christmas.