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When to Write New Year's, New Year, and new year

December 28, 2012

For those who want to ring in the new year correctly, read on!

When I was editing ESL Library’s New Year’s lesson plans recently, I started to question the use of New Year’s and New Year. When do we use the possessive form? Also, there are instances where the words “new” and “year” shouldn’t be capitalized. Confusing, right? I did a bit of research to find out what the style guides and dictionaries suggest, and I thought I’d share the results with you. With the holiday around the corner, your students might be asking you about this very soon!

Capitalized Vs. Lowercase

First of all, let’s sort out “New Year” vs. “new year.” This distinction depends on whether you’re referring to the holiday or the year itself. If you’re referring to the holiday, you should capitalize it. For example:

  • Happy New Year!

When you’re referring to the year itself, you shouldn’t capitalize it. For example:

  • It’s the first day of the new year, so let’s celebrate!
  • He’s decided to quit smoking since it’s a new year.

Here’s an easy way to remember this: If you use an article (a or the), you shouldn’t use initial capital letters.

New Year Vs. New Year’s

Now it gets tricky, since both ways seem to be commonly used. I think the problem started when we occasionally dropped the words “eve” and “day” from the full holiday names “New Year’s Eve” and “New Year’s Day.” When the words “eve” and “day” are present, we clearly need the possessive form “New Year’s” (according to The Chicago Manual of Style, section 8.88). But what about when those words aren’t present? People sometimes forget to include the ’s, but I think it should be included. For example, I recently wrote a blog post called 7 Christmas and New Year’s Classroom Activities” and I chose to write “New Year’s”. Why? Because I’m thinking of the holiday “New Year’s Day”, and I’m simply dropping the word “day.” I reasoned this out after editing ESL Library’s New Year’s lesson plans. The writer had chosen to use “New Year’s” over “New Year,” and I agreed with this choice.

What do the dictionaries have to say? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., has an entry for “New Year,” but states that usually “New Year’s” is used. Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English does not have an entry for “New Year” and does have an entry for “New Year’s,” so clearly they advise using “New Year’s,” For example:

  • Try these Christmas and New Year’s classroom activities.
  • It was a fantastic New Year’s celebration.


I would use “new year” when following an article (a or the), and I would use “New Year’s” in all other cases, aside from the expression “Happy New Year.” (Note: “Happy New Year’s” is also possible, but not as common, in my opinion.) What do you think? What do you normally use? Leave your comments in the section below.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Comments (16)

Isabelle (Guest)

Dear Tanya,

Thanks for sharing your research! This was helpful.


Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks, Isabelle! I'm glad you found it helpful.

Allan P.(Teacher)

It depends where you come from I suppose, but in the North of England the question is often asked, 'what are you doing for New Year?' - usually meaning 'How will you be spending New Year's Eve?', but equally, could include New Year's Day. In this instance 'New Year' means any part or all of the holiday period.

With regard to 'Christmas and New Year's Classroom Activities', I cannot agree with your choice.

Firstly, there appears to be two rules in play in the same phrase: wouldn't it need to be Christmas' if there is an insistence on New Year's?

Secondly, in the terms 'Monday's activities' and 'December's activities', these refer to activities carried out on Monday and during December respectively; they are not activities about Monday or December. Christmas and New Year activities are about Christmas and New Year, not activities to be done over those periods and therefore neither term should carry an apostrophe.

I am not a pedant, so each to their own on this one - as I say, maybe it depends on where you're from: but I still prefer my version. Happy New Year.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for sharing your point of view, Allan. I agree that many language differences are due to different geographical locations.

It's true that 'Christmas and New Year's Activities' does look a bit strange. My reason for the apostrophe is that the holiday names are 'Christmas Day' and 'New Year's Day,' which would then be shortened to 'Christmas' and 'New Year's.' But I agree that the apostrophe 's' could be confused with the possessive sense. I definitely didn't mean 'the activities belonging to New Year,' but rather 'the holiday activities.' Maybe 'Christmas and New Year Activities' would be less confusing.

Anyways, great comments. I've enjoyed discussing this with you! :)

Happy New Year,

Didi S.(Teacher)

Thank you for this, Tanya. When you are away from the English-speaking world, and you live in a Spanish-speaking environment, one often forgets little things like these... Happy King's Day! Didi

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're most welcome, Didi. I think people forget English's quirky rules when they live in an English-speaking country, too! I need to look up King's Day now, but happy King's Day to you, too! :)

Reply to Comment

ishan (Guest)

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Happy New Year, Ishan!

Pamela M.(Teacher)

I really appreciate the blog on the difference between 'New Year' and 'new year' which may have caught me off guard to explain to very curious students. However, it is rarely said, 'Happy New Year's Day' and mostly 'Happy New Year', although I also hear 'Happy New Years'.
Question is, are we celebrating the new day or the entire year. Therefore my choice will be 'Happy New Year'. Thanks for the awareness.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Good point about the day vs. the year, Pamela! That's why I also prefer 'Happy New Year' to 'Happy New Year's.' I think that most people would want to refer to the whole year. Just be careful not to write it as 'Happy New Years'—use 'Happy New Year's' (with the apostrophe) if you do teach the alternative. Thanks for your comment!

Julie Waterman(Guest)

Very helpful! How about when a non-count noun is used: "new year's food" or "New Year's food" and "new year's money" or "New Year's money?" These are both very common in my students: writing here in Japan! Since they aren't followed by "a or the" (as in the explanation above), I'm wondering. Arigato!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi, Julie! Great question. It depends if you're referring to the holiday or not. In those cases, I think your students are talking about food they eat on Jan 1 and money they receive as a gift on Jan 1, so I'd recommend using "New Year's food" and "New Year's money."

Tobias W.(Teacher)

Thank you for this! It was very helpful!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks, Tobias! Happy New Year!

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