English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I know the former is the generally accepted usage, as that’s all I’ve ever seen over the years; meaning, by extension, "The Smiths ..live here" – presumably; whilst the second example implies, "The Smiths’ Home", which seems to me an obviously superior proposition for a sign on a residence.

My bias makes me suspect the former is just a pragmatic simplification that has become standard practice (but then, so is the latter an incomplete shortcut.)

What might a pedantic English instructor think if driving by such a sign, The Smiths’, and why?

share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by MετάEd, tchrist, Matt E. Эллен, StoneyB, JLG Sep 28 '12 at 4:42

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The sign over the store says Tiffany & Co., not Tiffany & Co.'s even though it is identifying Tiffany & Co.'s store. I think your first thought, here are the Smiths, is the better reading of the sign.

share|improve this answer
This reminds me of the Strunk & White serial comma. It is my supposition that firm signs over the decades are the cause of people preferring to drop the serial comma as a matter of standard form, vs. using it as a powerful indicator of relation (e.g. “John, Fritz and Beth.” - implying Fritz and Beth are together – a serial comma would not.) I’m wary of corporate usage as definitive proper usage. But I really don’t know squat. This I do know. – ipso Aug 8 '12 at 12:41
In the movie, Lucy Gallant (1955), she has her neon store sign read, “Gallant’s Inc.” – ipso Aug 22 '12 at 17:44

The fewer apostrophes in life, the better. If you really have to display your name in this way, some alternatives are Mr and Mrs Smith, Mary and John Smith and The Smith Family.

share|improve this answer
That's just because if you put up a sign per the OP's example, people might think you were advertising a divided nation. – bib Aug 8 '12 at 13:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.