Updated April 2023
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!
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?
Yes, the word boy’s needs the apostrophe to show possession. Otherwise, it’s the plural and incorrect.
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!
Thank you for any help that you can provide!
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
Looking forward to the rest of life’s adventure together. Is it life’s or lifes
It would be “Looking forward to the rest of life’s adventure together.”
if I’m writing “Curley’s wife’s happiness” does there need to be an apostrophe on both Curley’s and Wife’s?
Yes. There would be an apostrophe on both Curley’s and Wife’s in that sentence.
Mrs. Parks’ class OR Mrs. Parks’s class???
Mrs. Parks’s class.
I’m actually struggling with one-
Dad’s fishing lines, or Dads’ fishing lines?
(Dad – singular)
Dad’s fishing lines. “Dads’ fishing line” would imply multiple dads.
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?
When a sentence is awkward, we would recommend rewriting it to make the possessive clear.
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!
Sorry for the delay. We would recommend Cousins Convention with no apostrophe.
Hi! In an invite…. would it be the
At the Rodriguez’s house
At the Rodriguezes’ house
At the Rodriguezes house ?
At the Rodriguez’s house.
jack mother’s cooking or jack’s mother cooking?
Jack’s mother’s cooking. Mother’s showing possession, not a contraction for mother is.
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
In that instance, an apostrophe is required.
What is the difference between (word)s’ and (word)’s
(Word)s’ is the possessive for multiple words, while (word)’s is the possessive for one word.
The audience’s life experiences? or The audience’s life experience?
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.”
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.
I left a message on his son, John’s answering machine.
It would be “I left a message on his son John’s answering machine.”
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,
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!
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”?
If two or more nouns share ownership, indicate the possession only once and on the final noun in the group.
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.
It would be “Kelly’s mom’s car.”
Hello, my last name is Rogers. I have a team name of Rogers Rangers… Where would the apostrophe go? Rogers’ or Roger’s or Roger’s??? Help!!
It would say Rogers’ Rangers.
Is an apostrophe used when you say: The Topelsohns will be coming from Dallas?
This is a plural, not a possessive, so an apostrophe isn’t used. (Other examples: The cats are coming, the tornados are coming, the Topelsohns are coming)
Calls or call’s. ?? Thank you
Depends on the context. You could say “I have phone calls to make” or “The phone call’s not going through.”
Is it ” this is Ben’s group’ work or Ben’s Group work
“Ben’s group’s work.” A singular person cannot be a group.
For a heading above some pictures of a committee should it be;
Ladies’ Committee. Or
That depends whether the committee belongs to the ladies (Ladies’ Committee), or if it’s a committee of ladies (Ladies Committee).