Ladies’ Day

Glamour! Sophistication! Punctuation! Isn’t this what you think of when you hear the phrase Ladies’ Day?

Ladies’ Day is a common aspect of horse-racing festivals, and today is Ladies’ Day at the Galway Horse-Racing Festival. As seems to be the tradition, it’s a warm day of greasy rain and even greasier teenage boys in oversized suits drinking during the day.

I’m not a fan, suffice it to say, but each to their own. Anyway, one of the most interesting things about Ladies’ Day is Ladies’ Day: that is, the phrase itself, and how almost everyone has to stop and think for a second about how to spell it.

That’s all down to the apostrophe of course. Is it Ladys, or Lady’s, or Ladies, or Ladies’? Well obviously it’s Ladies’, because that’s what I’ve been using from the start, but why is it Ladies’? 

I won’t go through all the rules of apostrophes again: you can find out all about them here. But let’s put apostrophes aside for a second, and decide first if we should use Lady or Ladies.

Well, lady refers to one lady, and ladies to more than one. Ladys isn’t possible at all, unless you’re misspelling Gladys. Well, there are always a lot of ladies at Ladies’ Day, so it must be Ladies. Next, do we need an apostrophe?

Well, let’s simplify it. What are we actually talking about? It’s a day of/for ladies, like when we talk about a friend’s house, or a dog’s tail. So like these cases, we need an apostrophe. But where does it go? You’re used to seeing it come before an S at the end of a word, so maybe it’s Ladie’s?

But no, that looks weird, doesn’t it? And that’s because we’re talking about a day of/for ladies. The apostrophe has to come after ladies, which functions as a single unit. We could write Ladies’s Day. It’d be OK, but it’d sound weird, and we don’t pronounce it Ladieses, so we drop the S after the apostrophe.

And that’s why it’s Ladies’ Day. While I do get annoyed by people misusing apostrophes sometimes, I get why this one is confusing. I mean, grammatically, lady’s, ladies, and ladies’ are all quite different, but sound identical.

But that’s another Ladies’ Day gone, and I can put all thoughts of apostrophes and S‘s away, at least until St. Stephens’ Day.

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