What is a Possessive Apostrophe?

Possessive Apostrophe

A possessive apostrophe is a kind of apostrophe that demonstrates that something belongs to or is connected to something else. Forinstance, Linda’s bag or the Queen’s hat.

How to use apostrophes correctly

When children learn to apply possessive apostrophe rules, it can get a little unclear. Still, hopefully, this guide will give you some great examples to use when explaining possessive apostrophes for your children.

Read the rules and possessive apostrophe examples to understand how this punctuation works.

Firstly, deciding when to use a possessive or standard apostrophe can vary. It depends on the type of noun you’re making into a possessive. Here is a general rule of thumb for singular nouns and plural nouns:

  1. When using singular nouns, add apostrophe + s. For example:
  • The dog’s leash.
  • The writer’s desk.
  • The planet’s atmosphere.
  1. For most plural nouns where the word ends in ‘s’ (when you have multiple subjects you’re discussing), add only an apostrophe after the noun. For example:
  • The dogs’ leashes (various dogs).
  • The writers’ desks (multiple writers).
  • The planets’ atmospheres (different planets).
  1. For possessive pronouns (e.g., yours, theirs, mine), do not use apostrophes to form possessives.

A great way to remember the possessive apostrophe rules is to remember these three things:

  • For single nouns, add an apostrophe and an ‘s’.
  • For plural nouns, add an apostrophe after the ‘s’.
  • If it’s a personal possessive pronoun, it doesn’t need an apostrophe.

Even though these rules will show you how to use apostrophes correctly in most cases, there are still exceptions in English. For example, if you encounter a singular noun that ends in s (class, Jess), you should use the plural noun rule and add an apostrophe. For a plural noun that doesn’t end in s, use the singular noun rule and add an apostrophe and ‘s’.

How to use apostrophes correctly — Common exceptions

English comprises several source languages, from Germanic and Scandinavian to Latin, Spanish, and French. Due to this, there are often exceptions to standard grammatical rules; sometimes, it can feel like there are more exceptions to the rules than words that follow the rules.

Here is how to use apostrophes correctly in a few different commonly found exceptions:

Which is correct — children’s or childrens?

Placing the apostrophe in words like ‘children’ can be difficult. It’s a plural, but it doesn’t look like one because it doesn’t end in ‘s’.

To show possession, you add an apostrophe to the end of ‘children’ and then finish with an ‘s’: children’s. For example:

  • children’s clothes;
  • children’s books.

Shared or Individual Possessives

In some sentences, two or more subjects are shown to possess something. When do you use apostrophes, then?

  1. Joint Possession

A single apostrophe shows joint (or shared) possession on the last subject.

  • It was Luna and Tilly’s idea.
  • We’re going to Mum and Dad’s house.
  1. Individual Possession

Apostrophes show individual possession of each subject.

  • Carly’s and Lucy’s dogs are so cute.
  • Grandma’s and Grandad’s presents should be arriving soon.

Using Apostrophes after a Name

We can use the apostrophe when referring to a person or writing a name to indicate possession of that person. However, we can run into the same exceptions. Some names end in ‘s’.

For names that don’t end with an ‘s’, we would add an apostrophe and an ‘s’ afterward. Here are some examples:

  • Lucy’s
  • Seren’s
  • Charlie’s
  • Sid’s
  • Ramana’s

We add an apostrophe to the end for names that already end with an ‘s’.

  • James’
  • Chris’
  • Alexis’
  • Travis’
  • Lucas’

Even though they’re proper nouns, they follow the same rules as regular nouns.

Adding apostrophes to surnames can also be confusing. Here’s why:

  • We can use surnames to talk about a single person in a household (May — e.g., Mrs. May — drives a red car)
  • We can use surnames to refer to the whole family unit (The May’s house is down the road)
  • Some surnames can also end in ‘s’, which muddles things further.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

  • The Smiths’ house belongs to the family whose surname is ‘Smith’. There are multiple family members, so ‘Smith’ is plural. Since it’s now plural with an ‘s’ at the end, we add an apostrophe to show possession.
  • Smith’s house — The singular ‘Smith’ suggests we’re just talking about one person here. It’s an individual rather than a group of people in a family, so we follow the singular noun rule for possessive apostrophes by adding the apostrophe and then the ‘s’.

Using Apostrophes for Contractions

When it comes to using apostrophes with contractions, it’s about placement. First, you will always use letters to combine the two words when you form contractions. Then, it would help if you placed an apostrophe in the order of these lost letters.

For examples:

  • you + have = you’ve (you took out ‘ha’)
  • can + not = can’t (you took out ‘no’)
  • they + will = they’ll (you took out ‘wi’)

There is, however, one exception to this rule, which is otherwise universal. The exception applies to the word ‘won’t’, formed from ‘will + not’. In this case, a new word is formed by adding letters and omitting them.

Using Apostrophes with Surrounding Punctuation

When an apostrophe is added, it becomes part of the word it has been attached to. Therefore, it should never be separated from that word. Likewise, it applies when the apostrophe is surrounded by other punctuation.

For example:

  • “When were you born, darlin’?” asked the man. Mary thought briefly and replied, “Around the late ’90s.”
  • “Why are you wearing that awful jumper?”, exclaimed the girl. “‘Cause my mum forced me to”, moped the boy.

Using Apostrophes to Show Plural Possession

When it comes to regular nouns, the plural form is made by adding either the letter s or es.

For example:

  • Girl — girls
  • Friend — friends
  • Actress — actresses
  • Church — churches

To show possession in the plural form, you must put an apostrophe after the s.

For example:

  • Girls — girls’ (girl + s + apostrophe)
  • Friend — friends’ (friend + s + apostrophe)
  • Actress — actresses’ (actress + es + apostrophe)
  • Church — churches’ (church + es + apostrophe)

Common Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes people make when showing possession with plural nouns is placing the apostrophe before the s.

For example:

  • The girl’s bathroom was always packed at lunchtime.

The sentence is incorrect because placing the apostrophe before the s implies that the bathroom belongs to one girl instead of girl. Instead, it should be written as:

  • The girls’ bathroom was always packed at lunchtime.

Another common mistake when making a regular noun plural is using an apostrophe + s to create the plural form.

For example:

Correct: Computers are costly nowadays.

Incorrect: Computer’s are very expensive nowadays.

Correct: Generally speaking, actresses are paid less than actors.

Wrong: Generally speaking, actress’s are paid less than actors.

The only exception to this rule is that sometimes an apostrophe + s is added when creating the plural form of a word that is not usually a noun.

For example:

  • Have a look at these do’s and don’ts.

This is not a universal technique for creating the plural form of words that aren’t typically nouns, but some writers use it because they feel its adds clarity.

Using Apostrophes with Plural Irregular Nouns

In the English language, there is a range of irregular nouns which change their spelling entirely in the process of becoming plural.

For example:

  • Child — children
  • Foot — feet
  • Woman — women
  • Person — people

To show possession with these irregular nouns, you must add an apostrophe + s after the odd word.

For example:

  • On the school trip, all children’s hats were bright red to make them easy to identify.
  • The city center was busy on Saturday because of the women’s march.

Instead of this, people often put the apostrophe after the s.

For example:

Incorrect: On the school trip, all children’s hats were bright red to make them easy to identify.

Incorrect: The city center was super busy on Saturday because of the women’s march.

Things get more complicated regarding possessive plurals of proper names ending in s, ch, and z.

For examples:

  • Hernandez
  • Lloyds
  • Birch

Usually, when putting a proper noun, such as Smith, in the plural possessive form, you add an s + apostrophe; this would give you Smiths’. However, this isn’t the case for proper nouns ending in s, ch, and z.

If someone’s name ends in s, ch, or z, to make it plural, you must add es.

For example:

  • Hernandez — Hernandezes
  • Lloyds — Lloydses
  • Birch — Birches

Then, to show possession, you add an apostrophe.

For examples:

  • The Hernandezes’ party is this Saturday at 10 pm.
  • The Lloydses’ dog just had a litter of puppies.
  • The Birches home just underwent massive renovations.

It can often look strange, but it is technically correct.

Using Apostrophes with Singular Compound Nouns

In terms of showing possession with singular compound nouns, such as father-in-law, you must add an apostrophe + s at the end of the word.

For example:

  • My father-in-law’s car is very fancy.
  • The passer-by’s expression was one of confusion.
  • The girl ruined her step-sister’s favorite jumper at the birthday party.

To show possession in the plural form for a compound noun, all you have to do is form the plural first and then add an apostrophe + s.

For example:

  • My two sisters-in-law’s houses are on the same street.
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