So what is the proper Father’s Day punctuation? Is it Father’s Day or Fathers Day? Or is it like April Fools’ Day and punctuated Fathers’ Day?
In this post, we’ll go through the arguments for each variant and then, at the end, advise you as to what we think is the proper way to write the holiday.
Fathers Day: No Apostrophe
The argument for this variant is that the fathers do not own the day itself. The day is a day for fathers not a day belonging to fathers, and, since no possession is involved, there is no need for an apostrophe.
This variant has, in recent years, been gaining traction in British English—being argued that apostrophes are not necessary when “for” is implied and not “belonging to.”
Fathers’ Day: Apostrophe After the “S”
The argument for this variant is the same argument for the spelling of April Fools’ Day, and that is that there are many fathers in the world and this is all of their day. Therefore, the plural possessive is necessary.
Father’s Day: Apostrophe Before the “S”
The argument for this variant is that the holiday belongs to fathers as individuals as they relate to an individual family. And since the holiday is a day where children recognize their respect and gratitude for their own father, the day is unique to him, giving him ownership over the day and therefore requiring an apostrophe before the “s.”
Which is Correct?
We ultimately side with the traditional use of “Father’s Day,” with the apostrophe before the “s.” We do so for a few reasons.
Firstly, Father’s Day is an officially recognized holiday and, in the United States at least, the official spelling of the holiday is in fact “Father’s Day.” Additionally, both AP Style and Chicago Style call for the the singular possessive “Father’s Day.”
Secondly, the argument for the variant “Fathers Day” is not particularly compelling when you keep in mind that the day to which the possession is referring is the holiday. It is correct that fathers do not own the third Sunday in June, but they do own the holiday Father’s Day that happens to fall on that day. And if fathers do not own it, who does? Mothers certainly don’t.
Thirdly, Father’s Day is meant to honor fathers as individuals as they relate to a specific family. It was not meant to be a day honoring all fathers of the world or to honor fathers as a collective group. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Father’s Day is “A day for recognition of the respect and gratitude felt by children toward their fathers.”
This is the difference between Father’s Day and April Fools’ Day. For Father’s Day, people are celebrating fathers as individual people as they relate to their own families. April Fools’ Day, however, is a day to recognize all of the fools in the world, a collective group. You rarely have one fool—or even a small set of fools—in mind when you speak about April Fools’ Day, which is probably why the day is also called All Fools’ Day. So, while the plural possessive makes sense for the fools of the world, it does not for the fathers.
This is also the reason why it is generally understood that there is no social obligation to wish someone who is not your father a “Happy Father’s Day.” For instance, you would wish anyone a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” during the holiday season, but you don’t go around wishing just anyone a “Happy Father’s Day” on Father’s Day.
This is because Father’s Day is meant to honor fathers as individuals, not a collective group.
History of Father’s Day
Father’s Day actually has a history that is interestingly relevant to the discussion of how to properly punctuate the holiday.
The credit for the modern holiday of Father’s Day generally goes to Sonora Dodd. Dodd was one of six children who were raised in a single-parent household by Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart.
Dodd envisioned a holiday similar to Mother’s Day but honoring fathers. Mother’s Day was specifically designed to be singular possessive, “for each family to honor its mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.” But Dodd, in her original petition to recognize Father’s Day used “Fathers’ Day” and not the singular possessive that is traditionally used for Mother’s Day. The spelling “Father’s Day,” however, was already used in 1913 when the first bill attempting to nationalize the holiday was introduced into Congress, and even though the holiday was not officially recognized until 1972, it still retained the apostrophe after the “s.”
Remember also that since Father’s Day is a holiday it should always be capitalized. So if you see “Father’s day” or “father’s day” make sure to capitalize them.