With brothers Joel and Ethan Coen up for multiple Oscars this weekend, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing them referred to as “the Coen’s” many times on the Internet. (Why not in print? Because print writers have copy editors.) And so this is as good a time as any to remind you of a very important punctuation fact:
“COENS” DOESN’T NEED AN APOSTROPHE, AND NEITHER DO PLURALS OF ANY OTHER LAST NAMES*.
This is a distressingly common mistake. Even sensible people who would never dream of writing “I have two cat’s” or “My neighbor’s are really loud” still buy signs to hang outside their houses that say “The Johnson’s” (or whatever their last name is; sometimes it isn’t Johnson).
One Smith, two Smiths. Keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t care how “weird” it looks to pluralize “Jones” as “Joneses,” that’s how you do it. Does it look weird to pluralize “boss” as “bosses”? Well, it shouldn’t.
Now, if you want to indicate that this is the house belonging to the Johnsons, you can use an apostrophe — but it goes after the “S.” The Johnsons’ house. The sign on your mailbox or front porch could say The Johnsons’, if you like. But it could also just say The Johnsons, as in The Johnsons live here. Best to leave the apostrophe out altogether if you can’t remember where it’s supposed to go.
The only reason you would use The Johnson’s is if there’s one dude called The Johnson, and this is his house. But honestly, how often does that come up?
So the directors are not the Coen’s. They are the Coens. “No Country for Old Men” is the Coens’ movie. I hope it win’s many award’s on Sunday.
(*Yes, obviously a name like D’Angelo or O’Malley has an apostrophe. Don’t be a smart-aleck.)