How to Use Singular and Plural Possessives

A common grammar mistake is the misuse of possessives. To a knowledgable reader, the mistake stands out and deters from the author's message.

Possessive nouns indicate ownership, and to form them correctly you need to know where to place the apostrophe and whether to add an "s."

Master the skill to correctly form possessive nouns to:

  1. Present yourself well in your writing to colleagues
  2. Give a good impression, especially if English is your second language

Form the Singular Possessive

Place an apostrophe followed by the letter "s" after a singular noun to form the singular possessive.

For Example

A bag belonging to Judy would be ​Judy’s bag.

If the noun ends with an "s," you also have the option of just placing the apostrophe after the "s";

For Example

Charles’ dog​.

For nouns ending in z or x you can add an "es" to the end followed by an apostrophe, the extra syllable makes the word easier to pronounce.

Plural noun that ends in the letter "s"

Add only an apostrophe to a plural noun that ends in the letter "s" to form the plural possessive (​nurses’ uniforms​ or ​farmers’ barns​). This shows the reader that more than one person owns the item possessed.

Add an apostrophe and then the letter "s"

Add an apostrophe and then the letter "s" to a plural noun that ​does not end​; with the letter "s" (​children’s toys​, ​women’s skirts​).

"it" and the singular possessive

Add the letter "s" to the pronoun "it" to form the singular possessive.

For example, "The company found its niche market."

  • This is the exception to the general rule that a possessive takes an apostrophe.
  • There is no plural possessive for "its."

Compound words

Add the apostrophe and then the "s" to the end of compound words.

In a compound construction indicating joint ownership the possessive form applies only to the second noun.

For example

Josh and Amber’s anniversary party​. This is the case because Josh and Amber share the anniversary party.

When to use a double possessive

Use a double possessive when talking about individual ownership for two people.

For example ​Megan’s and Audrey’s hairstyles​.

This is the case because Megan and Audrey each have their own hairstyle.

Use "its" to describe ownership

Use the word "its" when describing ownership of things.

For example, "The house was old, ​its windows​ were shabby."

The word "it's" is not a possessive but a ​contraction​. "It’s a bad idea to skate on thin ice" is a contraction of "It is a bad idea to skate on thin ice."

Personal pronouns imply ownership

Use personal pronouns like his, hers, theirs, yours and ours on their own, ​never use an apostrophe with these pronouns​. With these pronouns ownership is already implied.

List of personal pronouns:

  • his
  • hers
  • theirs
  • yours
  • ours
  • Singular Possessive: adding apostrophe and a "s" (Ex: Steve's)
  • Plural Possessive : adding an apostrophe after "s" (Ex: Puppies')
  • It's and Its: It's equals "it is"
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