Possessive Apostrophe Usage (Possessive Nouns)

I find that a lot of people understand that you use apostrophe-s to make something possessive, but there’s still a lot of confusion over how to use this combination correctly–especially with plural nouns. This post should help clear this problem up for you, and it will make me feel a little less guilty for being a horrible blogger as of late. I have a term paper due in a few days, so obviously something has to give! Read on, make me feel less guilty and learn a little something in the process!

The image…

is wrong! “Booths” is a plural noun! It’s becoming a common occurrence that people use an apostrophe while making a word plural. That’s wrong! You only need the apostrophe when you are making a possessive noun (or a contraction, which is another post for another day).

What is a “possessive noun” exactly?

Basically “possessive” means ownership. In English, when we discuss possession we generally mean adding an apostophe-s (‘s) to a noun. That noun will then OWN whatever the following noun is. For example, if I say, “Kelly’s coat,” it is essentially the same as saying, “The coat belongs to Kelly.”

Singular Nouns

With singular nouns, you add ‘s. Always. Even if you’re referring to a name that ends in -s. This also works if you’re using a hyphenated phrase for your noun. Let’s look at some examples:

James’s coat
My mother-in-law’s car
The cat’s fur

Remember how I said always? Well, I lied. Just a little! I promise! But the reason I lied is because it is a small exception: the word it. When you want to show possession with “it” you use “its.” NO APOSTROPHE! Why? Because “it’s” means “it is.” Other than that, everything is fair game! 😀

Plural nouns

Since there are a couple of different types of plural nouns, there isn’t one definitive “always do this” thing. It depends on the type of plural noun you are working with.

  • Plural nouns ending in an “s”
    • If a plural noun ends in an “s,” then you only add an apostrophe (after the “s”). For example, “The cats’ paws.”
  • Plural nouns not ending in an “s”
    • Unfortunately, English is a crazy language. Because of this, not all plural nouns end in an “s.” Those that do not, you add an apostrophe-s to. For example, the plural form of “child” is “children.” As such, you would say “The children’s coats.”

Tricky Things

Just a brief thing. You probably don’t know what a “gerund” is, so I’m just going to give you a brief idea of what it is before proceeding. A gerund is a verb that you add -ing to and it functions as a noun. For example, “Reading is an important skill to know.” The subject of the sentence is “Reading,” which is a noun in this case. That being said, you can use possessives with gerunds too: “Kelly’s dancing was superb in today’s performance.” Since “dancing” is a noun in this case, Kelly can “own” it.

Final Thoughts

Possessives can be tricky. I know a few people think if the thing you own is plural, you use s-apostrophe, like “Kellys’ coats.” This isn’t the case. When you’re thinking about possessives, look at the noun that has ownership. Determine if it’s singular or plural, and you should be well on your way to using possessives correctly! Good luck!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.

6 Comments

  1. I’m glad you addressed the use of possession in regards to gerunds. I have had people (professors included!) who have corrected me for using the possessive form of a word in front of a gerund before.

  2. What would the proper use of an apostrophe be for a noun that is both singular and plural such as moose or pronghorn.

    Worldwide, the pronghorn’s or (pronghorns’ )speed comes second only to the cheetah.

    I am referring to the species as a whole.

    Thank you for your time.

    Sincerely,

    Joe Milligan,
    Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

    • Good question! I haven’t really found any definitive answer on the subject, but I would guess your best bet is to follow the rule for a plural word not ending in an “-s,” such as “children.” So much like we would say “The children’s coats,” we would also say “The sheep’s coats of fur.”

      Irregular plural nouns can be tricky. I’ll keep an eye out for a more definitive answer and post again if I see something clearer.

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