The Possessive Apostrophe

By Daniel Scocco

It’s time to talk about being possessive. Sometimes possessiveness is good, sometimes it’s bad. However you look at it, if you’re speaking English, then you will need an apostrophe to show who owns what.

The apostrophe (‘) is one of the most used and misused English punctuation marks. No one is ever quite sure where to put it. You can use it when things are left out (contractions), but it’s the possessiveness that causes the most trouble.

The apostrophe is all about making a statement of ownership. You belong to me. This belongs to that. In grammar speak, the apostrophe shows the possessive of nouns.

There are four ways to use the apostrophe to show ownership or belonging.

1. Add apostrophe s to the end of a singular noun that does not end in s:

  • the manager’s room

2. Add apostrophe s to the end of a singular noun, even if it ends in s (this practice may vary in some places):

  • Doris’s scarf

3. Add apostrophe s to the end of a plural noun that doesn’t end in s

  • the children’s bag

4. If the plural noun ends in s, just add the apostrophe

  • my friends’ car

Notice that possessive pronouns like yours, his, hers, ours, its and theirs are not followed by the apostrophe.

Finally, if you want to play around with it, Wikipedia has a list of four phrases illustrating how the apostrophe can literally change the meaning of sentences.

  • my sister’s friend’s investments (I have one sister and she has one friend.)
  • my sisters’ friends’ investments (I have many sisters and they have many friends.)
  • my sisters’ friend’s investments (I have many sisters and they have one friend.)
  • my sister’s friends’ investments (I have one sister and she has many friends.)

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57 Responses to “The Possessive Apostrophe”

  • Sarah

    Confused now! How to I write “Love was sweet, and summer’s long? Meaning more than one summer? Does the apostrophe to before or after the s for the plural of summer?
    Thank you!

  • Blieque

    My English teacher always confuses me with this one… I hope you’re right. 😉

  • Jack Tennier

    Way back on this site there was a line “We are going to the Walker’s residence.” That is correct. So is “We are going to the Walker’s”, the word “residence” being understood.

    But I think, and here I could use some help, that “We will be speaking to the Walkers” is correct. Is it?

    Thanks

  • venqax

    Without doing any thinking about it, I’d go with seconds’ since it is plural– a few seconds’ not a second’s– or with no apostrophe at all under the argument that “a few seconds” is acting as an adjective without a possessive connotation.

  • Melody

    I have a grammar question for you! I’m usually on the ball when it comes to editing but this one has me stumped.

    Is the possessive apostrophe in this sentence correct?

    “…so fewer bikers and walkers would get squished, now Dr. David McKeown, the city’s medical officer of health, wants pedestrians to get a few second’s headstart at crossings before cars are allowed to turn.”

    Please explain your reasoning.

    Thanks!

  • Leanne

    I think this is a great site to come to if you need a laugh! I love the interplay between everyone’s Q’s and A’s. (or would that be Qs and As??) 😉

  • venqax

    Heres my’s two cents’ worth: In the case of “a winter’s day” you are in fact describing the day as belonging to winter, so need the apostrophe. Otherwise “a winter day”, where winter is just an adjective describing the day, same as “a wintry day” would.

    OTOH, “Six to eight weeks” is functioning as an adjective for notice. The notice doesn’t belong to the weeks in any sense. So, no possessive= no possessive apostrophe’s necessity.

  • Linda

    Is it “Six to eight weeks advance notice is preferred” or “Six to eight weeks’ advance notice is preferred”?

  • Jen

    As for California Dreamin’…I think that is the good old poetic license : ) or slang and all that! Most songs do not use correct English if one thinks about it!

    But, that gets me thinking, could it be be grammatically correct since it is a day belonging to summer/winter?

  • kelly

    when the word ending in ‘s’ is a group of people, an apostrophe is added without an ‘s’.
    the gardens belonging to our neighbours – our neighbours’ gardens

  • Fiona

    Have I done this right?

    …within close proximity to Jonnie’s sister’s, Jane’s, residence.

  • venqax

    jennifer: the original 4 points given by DS are right. The only tweaks to those are that, yes, some “ancient” names that have been written in a certain form from time immemorial are exceptions: It is Jesus’, never Jesus’s, if you are talking about the most famous one, as opposed to any old Spaniard who happens to have the name. And, to be precise, the rule of adding ‘s after a word ending in s, e.g. Doris’s, is really a matter of style, not a rule of grammar or orthography. Many publishers, for example, demand an apostrophe-only following an s- ending word, so woud prescribe Doris’. Many of us, however, prefer the consistency of leaving it -‘s regardless. Even when you get triple-Ss like “congress’s”. I would never violate a general rule just because it “looks bad” in my opinion. Simply not a good enough reason, the language is idiosyncratic enough without allowing subjective aesthetics to further complicate things.

  • jennifer

    I need an affirmation as to what is right?

  • Anon

    How would one pronounce friends’? Is it friends or friends-es?

  • Wagner

    Sorry, I thought this was a question and answer site.

  • Wagner

    The other day I asked my ESL Teacher if it was correct to say “It´s a beautiful summer´s day” The answer was no, you can only say summer day, she said. However, if I can say, like (or as?) in the California Dreaming song, “I´ve been for a walk on a winter´s day” Why can´t I do the same on a summer´s day?

  • Guy

    Jonathan and Susan’s wedding

    If there are two possessors, only the second possessor gets the ‘s.

  • jonathan street

    Which is correct:

    Jonathan’s and Susan’s wedding, or

    Jonathan and Susan’s wedding?

  • Cliff

    In my experience, Anglican (Episcopalian) institutions usually use the apostrophe as in St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church while other denominations do not as in St. Joseph Catholic Church or St. Timothy Lutheran Church.

  • lee

    scowie, did you really read my post? I copied and pasted from what ddd posted. He DID in fact mention a St Thomas University. I didn’t give any opinion on whether they should or shouldn’t include an apostrophe. My post was about citing bogus information from the internet.

  • scowie

    Lee, no one mentioned a St Thomas University or Hospital, they mentioned a St Thomas’ Hospital. Hositals/schools/universities named after saints generally do indicate possession in the name with an apostrophe. Maybe you think they shouldn’t but that’s irrelevant. They do.

    They dont indicate possession with city names because a city can have more than one university/hospital so it wouldn’t be appropriate.

  • lee

    I know this all happened a long time ago, but I had to say something.

    ddd posted from a website:

    Just how much disagreement there is over this is evident when you consider that in London there is a St Thomas’ Hospital and a St James’s Park. A quick Google search also reveals a large number of educational establishments which have apparently given up on the question and call themselves St Thomas University (Miami Gardens, Florida and Fredericton, New Brunswick) or University of St Thomas (St Paul, Minnesota and Houston, Texas) — the former, of course, will give a lot of grammar sticklers indigestion.
    ———————————————————————————
    This is incredibly stupid. St Thomas University. Xavier University. Yale University. New York University. Notice something? That’s right, none of them have apostrophes! There is no demonstrable connection between the ‘apostrophe question’ and the fact that St Thomas University is called St Thomas University. Just like there is no demonstrable connection between the ‘apostrophe question’ and New York University being called New York University. To claim that there is a connection at all strains credibility.

    Just because something made it on the internet doesn’t mean you should cite it.

    Also, GRACE is right about John’s and Mary’s codes of conduct.

  • Lane

    Thank you, Cliff! That’s actually the way I wrote it out the first time, and then came to a complete halt, certain I had it all mixed up!

    Lisa, the comment was in reply to a friend who asked if it was Rick’s sister’s daughter or his brother’s daughter. So I had to be specific! 🙂
    Thanks again, this is a great site!

  • lisa

    It’s Rick’s niece.

    Worth avoiding apostrophes where it’s just as clear and succinct without.

  • Cliff Douglas

    It is the daughter of the brother of Rick, both are possessive and both require the apostrophe. It is Rick’s brother’s daughter.

  • Lane

    I’m stumped on this one:

    Is it Rick’s brother’s daughter, or should it be Ricks brother’s daughter?

    Thank you!!

  • Cliff Douglas

    My last name ends in s. The possessive singular is Douglas’ or Douglas’s, the plural is Douglases, the possessive plural is Douglases’. These all look bad to my eye. We opted for ‘The Douglas Family’ on return address labels.

    I pity the branch of the clan that spells their name Douglass.

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