Q&A: April Fools, Fool’s or Fools’ Day?

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are feeling a little foolish and confused over an apostrophe…

Q: Hi AWC, we’re going to be prepared this year.

A: For what?

Q: For your crazy practical joke on 1 April. Last year’s was brutal.

A: Ummm, we didn’t actually do one last year.

Q: Yes you did, remember? You told me I was adopted.

A: Oh…

Q: Remember?

A: Um. This is incredibly awkward.

Q: Wait. What?

A: …

Q: So that paperwork was real? And that visit from that strange lady?

A: Let’s get on with today’s topic, shall we?

Q: Umm… sure. So, I was wondering if it should be called April Fools, Fool’s or Fools’ Day? I mean, technically it could be any of them – the plural, single fool or a bunch of fools, but I assume there is an official one?

A: What does your gut tell you?

Q: My gut is not feeling all that well right now. I've just had some big news about my family history.

A: Okay, well, speaking of birth mothers – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day officially follow the “apostrophe-S” rule. Valentine’s Day does too.

Q: She said I had a brother…

A: Can we stay on topic please?

Q: I laughed her out of the house…

A: Hello? We’re talking punctuation here.

Q: Umm, yeah. Sorry. Ah, so does that mean it’s April Fool’s Day then?

A: Not necessarily. But we can discard the plural form – that’s reserved for people who have had the pranks played on them. (“They are such April fools!”)

Q: So there is definitely an apostrophe present?

A: Correct.

Q: Well what about the movies and Bryce Courtenay’s book?

A: They were all “April Fool’s Day”.

Q: It’s looking like the winner.

A: Not so fast. If you’re in America, they typically always use “April Fools’ Day” – the plural possessive favoured by both the AP and Chicago style guides. In that case, the emphasis is on the many fools to which the day belongs.

Q: There are a lot of fools out there.

A: So it would seem. However, on the other side of the Atlantic, the UK’s Oxford Dictionaries prefers the April Fool’s version.

Q: Oh dear. And here in Australia?

A: Macquarie Dictionary actually follows the Americans and suggests “April Fools’ Day” – listing no alternative spelling.

Q: I feel like this joke’s on me.

A: Yeah, Google usage shows it as roughly 50-50 so it’s really up to you which you’d like to use – as long as you’re consistent. However, here in Australia we do recommend following the Macquarie Dictionary and being the Australian Writers’ Centre, we’re partial to plural possessives.

Q: Okay, April Fools’ Day it is! This possessive topic comes up often, doesn’t it?

A: It sure does. Here’s our previous discussion on similar stuff.

Q: Right, well, I better go. I have some paperwork to find…

A: Oh that adoption thing? Yeah, sorry we WERE pranking you after all.

Q: Excuse me while I rock quietly in a foetal position in the corner…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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