While preparing your holiday cards, you may be stumped by a recurring December dilemma: should you write “season’s greetings” or “seasons’ greetings”? Or “seasons greetings,” with no apostrophe at all?
The expression “season’s greetings” is an expression of “genitive case” — also known as possessive — in which one noun is the “possessor” of another noun.
Genitive case can be used to express an attribute. For example, a reference to “Sophia’s arrival” does not indicate that she “possesses” an arrival; “arrival” names an action that Sophia is taking. That’s a particular kind of genitive case that grammarians call “subjective genitive.” The word in the genitive case (Sophia’s) performs an action that the “possessed” word names (Sophia arrives). The subject is Sophia’s arrival.
In contrast, a construction called “objective genitive” is composed of a genitive that modifies a noun that performs an inferred action upon the genitive modifier: The Columbia Guide to Standard American English offers “your father’s illness” (the illness acted upon your father) and “his tormentors” (referring to people who tormented him).
The phrase “season’s greetings” can be considered a descriptive genitive or an objective genitive. When Belinda says “season’s greetings,” the greetings are hers; they do not belong to the season. She is sending greetings for the season or greeting people in the spirit of the season. But she is speaking of only one season; offering “seasons’ greetings” would indicate that she is referring to two or more seasons, which presumably is not Belinda’s intention.
So at the end of this year you can confidently offer clients, colleagues, business associates, relatives and friends “greetings for the season” — or “season’s greetings” (with the apostrophe between the “n” and the “s”).
If you’re still hesitant about writing “season’s greetings” because people don’t really say that to one another, you can always honor specific traditions instead. Wish a “merry Christmas” to Christians, “happy Hanukkah” (or Chanukah) to people of the Jewish faith, “happy Kwanzaa” or “joyous Kwanzaa” to African-American friends, and “eid mubarak” (which literally means “blessed festivities”) to Muslims.
You might also wish someone a “happy new year,” but don’t say “happy new years” (plural) unless you’re referring to more than one year at a time (the holiday is named in possessive form: New Year’s Day).
We at EditPros favor “happy holidays” because most people celebrate more than one holiday this time of year — an ethnic or religious holiday in addition to the advent of the new calendar year.
Whichever greeting you choose, find a comfortable pen, limber your wrist, and get started. The holidays are just about here.
— Marti Childs and Jeff March are co-owners of EditPros LLC (www.editpros.com) of Davis, and authors of “Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? – Volume 1.”