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Possessive Nouns in English

Possessive Nouns in English

Possessive nouns are nouns that indicate a possession of or some other relationship to another word or phrase. In the English language, the affixation of the possessive clitic (‘s [apostrophe s] or s’ [s apostrophe]) forms possessive nouns. Possessive nouns perform the grammatical function of determinative in English grammar. Learn how to form and pronounce the possessive forms of English nouns.

Forming Possessive Nouns

For singular nouns that end in any letter other than s, add an apostrophe followed by an s to the end of the noun. For example:

  • dog’s bone
  • Terrence’s cup
  • President’s advisors
  • baby’s toy

Also add an apostrophe followed by an s to the end of a singular compound noun that ends in any letter except s. For example:

  • Dean of the library’s decision
  • Queen of England’s crown
  • King of Spain’s proclamation
  • father-in-law’s car

For singular nouns including compound nouns that end in the letter s, add an apostrophe after the final s of the word. Do not add an additional s. (Note that some writing styles do include the additional s after the apostrophe on singular nouns that end in s.) For example:

  • James’ daughter
  • princess’ gown
  • boss’ decision
  • President of the United States’ policy

For plural nouns that end with the letter s, also add an apostrophe after the final s of the word. Again do not add an additional s. For example:

  • monsters’ lairs
  • employees’ complaints
  • workers’ gifts
  • teachers’ salaries

Add an apostrophe followed by an s to the end of a plural compound noun that ends in any letter except s. For example:

  • Princesses of Sweden’s ball
  • fathers-in-law’s daughters
  • ladies-in-waiting’s mirrors
  • Emperors of Japan’s palaces

Add only an apostrophe to the end of a plural compound noun that ends in the letter s. Do not add an additional s after the apostrophe. For example:

  • Presidents of the United States’ libraries
  • tourists in the Philippines’ luggage
  • people of the Bahamas’ interests
  • leaders of Honduras’ proclamation

For irregular plural nouns that end in any letter other than s, add an apostrophe followed by an s to the end of the noun. For example:

  • children’s stories
  • men’s shoes
  • sheep’s wool
  • alumni’s party

For singular and plural nouns joined by a coordinating conjunction, place the apostrophe s or apostrophe after only the final noun to indicate joint possession. For example:

  • grandma and grandpa’s tractor
  • mice and rats’ food
  • staff and faculty’s restroom
  • brothers and sisters’ toys

For singular and plural nouns joined by a coordinating conjunction, place the apostrophe s or apostrophe after each noun to indicate individual possession. For example:

  • students’ and teachers’ guidelines
  • boys’ and girls’ classes
  • alumni’s and current students’ presentations
  • mom’s and dad’s parents

Pronouncing Possessive Nouns

Although all English nouns take either an -‘s or an –s’ suffix in the possesive, the suffix is pronounced differently depending on the last sound of the noun.  For nouns that end in an [s] (s, se, ce), [z] (z, ze), [š] (sh), [č] (ch), or [ĵ] (j, dge) sound, then the possessive suffix is pronounced as [ez] (es). For example:

  • church’s – churches’
  • judge’s – judges’
  • Rose’s – roses’
  • watch’s – watches’

For nouns that end in a voiceless [p] (p, pe), [t] (t, tt, te), [k] (k, ck, ke), [f] (f, gh), [θ] (th), or [h] (h) sound, then the possessive suffix is pronounced as [s] (s). For example:

  • apple’s – apples’
  • Jeff’s
  • Mack’s
  • Nate’s

For nouns that end in a voiced [m] (m, me), [n] (n, ne), [ng] (ng), [b (b, be), [d] (d), [g] (g, ge), [v] (v, ve), [ð] (th), [w] (w), [r] (r, re), or [l] (l, ll, le) sound or any vowel sound, then the possessive suffix is pronounced as [z] (z). For example:

  • brother’s – brothers’
  • Greg’s
  • mom’s – moms’
  • Bev’s

All English nouns regardless of regularity take either an ‘s [apostrophe s] or an s’ [s apostrophe] in the possessive form. However, the formation of the possessive noun depends on the number and spelling of the specific noun.

See also Punctuation Rules for Apostrophes in Written English.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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