Apostrophes: Grammar Rules For Showing Possession

by | Mar 16, 2008 | Grammar and Usage, Proofreading, Punctuation | 32 comments

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Wondering when a noun should use s, s’, ’s, or es to show possession? Want to know when to use the  apostrophe and when to skip it? Here are some grammar rules (from our proofreaders!) to guide you as you tell ’em whose it is (to show ownership).

Rule 1: To form the possessive of a singular noun that does not end in s or an s sound, add an apostrophe plus s to the noun:

Examples: the doctor’s orders, the writer’s desk, Tammy’s car, my sister’s children, her father-in-law’s house

Rule 2: To form the possessive of a singular noun that does end in s or an s sound, add an apostrophe plus s to the noun:

Examples: Jennifer Lopez’s music, the witness’s report, James’s poetry

One exception to this rule is to add only an apostrophe when adding the apostrophe plus s makes the word difficult to pronounce:

Examples: Sophocles’ plays, Mrs. Rogers’ new car

Rule 3: To form the possessive of a plural noun that ends in s or es, add only an apostrophe to the noun:

Examples: the actors’ roles, the writers’ convention, their doctors’ orders, the beaches’ cleanliness

Rule 4: To form the possessive of a plural noun that does not end in s or es, add an apostrophe plus s to the noun:

Examples: her children’s toys, the women’s dressing room

 

Rule 5: To indicate separate possession, add whichever possessive sign is appropriate (an apostrophe plus s or an apostrophe alone) to the name of each person:

Examples: Bill’s and Tom’s cars (two separate cars: Bill’s car and Tom’s car), James’s and Olivia’s houses (two separate houses: James’s house and Olivia’s house)

Rule 6: To indicate joint possession, add the appropriate possessive sign (an apostrophe plus s or an apostrophe alone) to the final name:

Examples: Mary and John’s house (the house belongs to both Mary and John), Edward and Madeleine’s books (the books belong to both Edward and Madeleine)

One exception to this rule occurs if one of the owners is identified by a pronoun (my, his, her, our, their). In this case, make each name and pronoun possessive:

Example: Erica’s and my project (not Erica and my project); Mark’s and our dinner (not Mark and our dinner); John’s, Edgar’s, Lisa’s, and my party (not John, Edgar, Lisa, and my party)

A note about the possessive pronouns: my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose. These pronouns never require apostrophes.

Rule 7: To form the possessive of a singular abbreviation, add an apostrophe plus s.

Examples: the FAA’s ruling, the MD’s diagnosis, USA’s stand

Rule 8: To form the possessive of a plural abbreviation, add an s’.

Examples: the PhDs’ dissertations, the RNs’ orders, the CPAs’ convention

A note about apostrophes in contractions: Whenever a word or phrase is shortened by contraction, remember to place an apostrophe at the point where the letters are omitted.

Examples: don’t (do not), can’t (cannot), rock ‘n’ roll (rock and roll), ma’am (madam)

Apostrophe placement in first and last names, abbreviations, and pronouns shouldn’t give you any trouble if you just follow these simple writing rules. But if you’re not sure, Writer’s Relief proofreaders may be able to help. So when Maria parks her car in Tom and Jane’s driveway, which is next to the Petersons’ house and across the street from Edward’s and Alfred’s apartments, you’ll have no trouble at all conveying that information to your reader!Submit to Review Board

32 Comments

  1. t

    Hello
    IN a sentence such as the teacher preferred the girl’s work to the boys. Do you also need t our an apostrophe in the word boys as in boy’s, if it is at the end of the sentence with no noun after it?

    Regards

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Hi T,

      Yes, the word boy’s needs the apostrophe to show possession. Otherwise, it’s the plural and incorrect.

      Reply
  2. Pat

    Please help with text for a sign outside of a cabin. I see so many different versions, it is difficult to know which is correct!

    The Smith’s
    Established 2017

    The Smiths’
    Established 2017

    The Smiths
    Established 2017

    Thank you for any help that you can provide!

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Hi Pat,

      According to the Gregg Reference Manual, to form the possessive of a plural noun, you would add only an apostrophe. So the answer would be Smiths’ in this case.

      However, it seems like a word is missing. The Smiths’ “what?” was established in 2017? You might want to consider:

      The Smiths’ Cabin
      Established 2017

      Reply
  3. klaus

    if I’m writing “Curley’s wife’s happiness” does there need to be an apostrophe on both Curley’s and Wife’s?

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Hi Klaus:

      Yes. There would be an apostrophe on both Curley’s and Wife’s in that sentence.

      Reply
  4. Janet Yancey

    Mrs. Parks’ class OR Mrs. Parks’s class???

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Mrs. Parks’s class.

      Reply
  5. Olivia

    I’m actually struggling with one-

    Dad’s fishing lines, or Dads’ fishing lines?

    (Dad – singular)

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Hi Olivia,

      Dad’s fishing lines. “Dads’ fishing line” would imply multiple dads.

      Reply
  6. Amy

    Hey– I wondered what the order would be for possessive apostrophes when there is another name in parenthesis

    For example: Where is the client’s (Bill) bicycle? or Where is the client (Bill’s) bicycle?

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      When a sentence is awkward, we would recommend rewriting it to make the possessive clear.

      Reply
  7. Cindy Foster

    I’m creating shirts for our group of female cousins. We have an annual convention and my question is: Cousin’s Convention, Cousins’ Convention or Cousins Convention. Help is appreciated!

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Sorry for the delay. We would recommend Cousins Convention with no apostrophe.

      Reply
  8. Melissa Rodriguez

    Hi! In an invite…. would it be the

    At the Rodriguez’s house
    At the Rodriguezes’ house
    At the Rodriguezes house ?

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      At the Rodriguez’s house.

      Reply
  9. shabr

    jack mother’s cooking or jack’s mother cooking?

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      Jack’s mother’s cooking. Mother’s showing possession, not a contraction for mother is.

      Reply
  10. David

    What if the the possessor appears at the end of the sentence?
    Is an apostrophe required?
    eg. This bag must be Tims? or Tim’s

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      In that instance, an apostrophe is required.

      Reply
  11. Nobody

    What is the difference between (word)s’ and (word)’s

    Reply
    • Writer's Relief Staff

      (Word)s’ is the possessive for multiple words, while (word)’s is the possessive for one word.

      Reply
  12. Mike

    The audience’s life experiences? or The audience’s life experience?

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      If you’re referring to the audience’s collective experience: “The audience’s life experience.”

      If you’re referring to individual members of an audience: “The audience’s life experiences.”

      Reply
  13. Linda Burgess

    I am doing some transcription work, and although it is primarily verbatim, I still need to correct grammar. Could you help me with this sentence:

    I left a message on his son’s, John’s, answering machine.
    or
    I left a message on his son, John’s answering machine.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      Hi Linda,

      It would be “I left a message on his son John’s answering machine.”

      Reply
  14. Heather

    Our last name is Behrens. How would i use it on a party picture title or invitation? The Behrens Annual Holiday Party, Behrens Annual Holiday Party, The Behrens’ Annual Holiday Party,

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      Hi Heather,

      According to Merriam Webster: For names that end in an s or z sound, you can either add -‘s or just an apostrophe. Going with -‘s is the more common choice: the car that belongs to Jones → Jones’s car or Jones’ car.

      So this could be either the Behrens’s Annual Holiday Party, or The Behrens’ Annual Holiday Party.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  15. Goran

    Hi! I found a sentence example in a textbook: Tom and Beeno’s mothers are buying snacks for their children. Any idea why would (‘s) be omitted after Tom? Does it have to do something with referring to the boys as “children”?

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      If two or more nouns share ownership, indicate the possession only once and on the final noun in the group.

      Reply
  16. Ebenezer Dada

    Which one is the most accurate, “Mom Kelly’s car” or “Kelly Mom’s car”.
    In this scenario, if Kelly’s mother just bought a car.

    Reply
    • Blog Editor

      It would be “Kelly’s mom’s car.”

      Reply

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