At Historic City News last year, we adopted a new tool for cleaning up the writing on our website. In addition to two spellchecking applications, when a reporter submits an article to us for publication, it will be reviewed using Grammarly. The automated program goes beyond grammar to help ensure that everything we write is clear, engaging, and professional; while still allowing authors to maintain their own writing style.
Although we can never guarantee that any given article in our publication will be completely error-free, Grammarly helps us watch misspellings, grammatical and punctuation mistakes, as well as other writing issues. Believe me, the last thing you want to worry about when ringing in the new year is when or where to put an apostrophe.
I want to share what I have learned about one of the most common writing errors at this time of year. I got the nitty-gritty on New Year, New Year’s, and New Years so you can make a toast at midnight and get your punctuation right while you’re at it.
So, how do you wish someone well in 2020? Is it Happy New Year, New Year’s, or New Years?
When is it “New Year’s”?
According to Grammarly, you use the apostrophe-S in “New Year’s” when you’re talking about December 31 or January 1 resolutions you’re making, or other things that “belong” to the New Year.
Let’s get grammatical. Apostrophes are the way the English language shows possession or that something belongs to another thing. Here are the three most common uses of New Year:
New Year’s Eve: the eve of the New Year
New Year’s Day: the first day of the New Year
New Year’s resolution: something you say you’re going to do for the New Year
In all three cases, there’s a relationship of belonging between the New Year and the noun: the eve, the day, and the resolution are all specifically related to the New Year (it’s not just any resolution), so “New Year’s” becomes the modifier for each noun.
“I like going to big parties on New Year’s.” (This implies “New Year’s Eve,” so “New Year’s” is possessive as a shortcut for referring to December 31.)
“I like staying at home and watching movies on New Year’s Day.” (“New Year’s” usually means “New Year’s Eve,” and people usually specify “New Year’s Day” when they’re talking about January 1.)
“Let’s have New Year’s brunch.” (The brunch is in honor of New Year’s Day.)
“My New Year’s resolution is to remember where the apostrophe goes in New Year’s.” (The resolution belongs to the New Year. And now you can do it too!)
Also, note that “New Year’s” is capitalized because it’s referring to a holiday or a specific event.
When is it “New Year”?
Here’s what to say at midnight (and for the first couple weeks of January): Happy New Year!
You also say “New Year” with no possessive apostrophe-S when you’re talking about the year as a whole. “New Year’s” refers to one night, one day, and one resolution (or a lot of resolutions—we don’t judge). But “new year” usually comes up when people are talking generally about the year, often before it’s begun or when it’s still early in the year.
“December is really hectic, so let’s get lunch in the new year.”
“Now that it’s the new year, I have so much more time.”
“Happy New Year!”
You capitalize “New Year” when you’re talking about the holiday or the big day, but not when you’re referring to the new year as a timeframe.
When is it “New Years”?
New Year’s is the end of one year and the beginning of another year. There are two years involved—the old one and the new one—but only one of them is new.
That means you’ll never have the occasion to say “Happy New Years.” “Years” is plural, and in this galaxy at least, only one year happens at a time.
What if you’re talking about new years in the plural? Here’s one example:
“New years always give opportunities for reflecting, celebrating, and resolving to do things differently in the future.”
In this case, Alice E.M. Underwood at Grammarly points out that the subject is multiple new years, or every single year, at least when it starts. This sentence could also be rephrased to focus on the New Year’s holiday: “New Year’s always gives opportunities for reflecting, celebrating, and resolving to do things differently in the future.”
Note that this version puts the focus on the event of December 31-January 1, instead of every new year. This emphasis is more common. When people talk about a celebration over multiple years, a tradition every December 31, or a generalization about the new year, the term of choice is generally “New Year’s.” This is because in most cases, “New Year’s” is a shortcut for “New Year’s Eve,” and the name of the holiday functions as an adjective.
“Every New Year’s I go to a party and we listen to ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ at midnight.”
“All New Year’s parties in bars are overpriced.”
Now you’re all set to celebrate New Year’s, start your new year off strong, and resolve to use apostrophes right in all future new years. Oh, and by the way — happy New Year!