English Possessives with 's

Overview

This module introduces possessives using an apostrophe + "s" in English. Possessives sometimes omit the "s," which is covered here, too.

Couple carrying cardboard boxes with their possessions while moving in together

Plural vs. Possessive ‘S’

The misuse of the possessive -s is a grammatical error that plagues all sorts of writers. The possessive -s is most commonly misused when a writer confuses it with the plural form. Fortunately, the rules governing the usage of the possessive -s and the plural form are quite clear cut and logical.

Noun Plurals

The most common way to pluralize a noun is to simply add an -s at the end.

Hamburger (singular) becomes hamburgers (plural) College (singular) becomes colleges (plural)

Nouns that end in a vowel followed by a -y take an -s in the plural.

Monkey (singular) becomes monkeys (plural)

Nouns that end in a consonant followed by a -y undergo a more dramatic change. First, the -y changes to an -ie and then an -s is added.

Baby (singular) becomes babies (plural)

Nouns that end in a sibilant (s, x, z, ch, sh) pluralize by adding an -es.

Church (singular) becomes churches (plural)

Nouns that end in an -is are replaced by -es in the plural.

Thesis (singular) becomes theses (plural)

Count nouns that end in -f pluralize by changing to a -ves.

Calf (singular) becomes calves (plural)

Nouns that end in -o preceded by a vowel usually pluralize by adding an -s. Nouns that end in -o preceded by a consonant usually pluralize with an -es. The nouns that do not follow this pattern are often words imported from other languages and take their plural form according to the rules of that language.

Soprano (singular) becomes Sopranos (plural)

The Possessive

The possessive -s is used to show belonging: Kevin’s coat

But, belonging can be less obvious: A good night’s sleep

The possessive forms of nouns are formed by adding an apostrophe and in most cases the possessive -s. When in doubt about whether or not your phrase requires the possessive, tum it around and see if it breaks down into an “of the” statement.

The doctor’s stethoscope- The stethoscope of the doctor- Correct

Three days’ grace- The grace of three days- Correct

The doctors’ running the clinic- The running the clinic of the doctors – Incorrect To place the apostrophe:

Add an ‘s to the singular forms of a noun, even if it ends in an -s.

The principal’s office Mrs. Jones’s garden party

You have the tools. We help you use them.

Add an ‘s to the plural forms of nouns that do not end in -s.

The children’s bedroom

Add an ‘ to the plural forms of nouns that end in -s.

The addicts’ support group

The seven Von Trapp kids’ singing nanny

Apostrophes and Possessive Pronouns

Apostrophes should not be used with possessive pronouns (my, yours, hers, his, its, ours). These pronouns do not need apostrophes because they inherently show possession.

Incorrect: his’ speech                        Correct: his speech

Incorrect: that bike is your’s             Correct: that bike is yours

The most complicated possessive pronoun is “its”. Its and it’s do not serve the same grammatical function. It’s is a contraction for “it is” and its is the possessive pronoun that signifies “belonging to it”. Check if you’re using “it’s” correctly by asking yourself whether you could replace “it’s” with “it is” and still have your sentence make sense. Remember, you do not use an apostrophe with the other possessive pronouns in the third person singular, his and hers, so do not use it with its!

Using Its / It’s

CorrectIncorrect
It’s true that the dog chases its tail.
 
This sentence would be understood as following:
It is true that the dog chases its own tail.
Its true that the dog chases it’s tail.
 
This sentence would be understood as following:
The true (of the it) that the dog chases it is tail.

Hint: If you can say “it is,” then use the contraction.

E.g. The dog wagged its tail makes no sense if you say “the dog wagged it is tail,” so don’t use an apostrophe.

Whereas

Its going to rain later today does make sense if you say “it is going to rain later today,” so use the apostrophe:

It’s going to rain later today.

Our teachers and tutors are experienced and passionate about helping students improve their language skills. Our platform offers a flexible and convenient way to learn from the comfort of your home or in person. Find whether your favorite teacher is available for in person classes or choose any teacher for online class or simply let us pick a great teacher for you.

Highlighted Author:

Inspirational International Women's Day Quotes for 2023

Learn with a Teacher

Private or group classes, in person or online. Find out more about our English classes here.

Smiling young african american businessman writing in diary and using laptop in creative office

Free Learning Materials

Do you like to study on your own when it’s convenient for you? Buy helpful charts, vocabulary lists, and courses.

Additional Topics

Tower Bridge in London, England
English Subordinating Conjunctions

This unit covers subordinating conjunctions, including after, although, because, before, if, and since. These occur at the beginning of subordinate or dependent clauses, and are used to combine independent and dependent clauses together.

Kicking Soccerball on Field
English Passive Voice - Part 2

This unit introduces more complex components of the passive voice.

Feeding little bird from hand
English Idioms and Idiomatic Phrases

This unit introduces some common idioms and idiomatic phrases in English. Idioms are expressions whose meaning is not literal but figurative. For example: "The early bid gets the worm."

Show More
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
Spoken Production:
Spoken Interaction:
Reading:
Listening: