The Possessive Apostrophe

By Daniel Scocco

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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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59 Responses to “The Possessive Apostrophe”

  • 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.

  • 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??) 😉

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Blieque

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

  • 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!

  • Gina

    What is the proper possessiveness using the apostrophe for a proper noun such as “Mullnix”?

    Mr. Mullnix’s work ethics are good.
    or
    Mr. Mullnix’ work ethics are good.

  • Paul Reyburn

    Would you say these have the same meaning?

    Hearing politician’s lies every day really gets wearing.
    Hearing politicians lie every day really gets wearing.
    Hearing political lies every day really gets wearing.

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