A review of the possessive in English Posted by Gabriele on Jul 14, 2015 in English Grammar
Here is quick review of how to create possessive words in English. If you have any questions be sure to ask them in the comment box below.
The possessive form is used to indicate ownership or belonging. In English, we usually add –‘s (apostrophe + the letter s) to the end of a noun or noun phrase to indicate possessiveness or possession. So, first let’s take a look at some simple, singular nouns, in which –‘s is always used to indicate possession.
Here are a few examples:
the cat’s food
Jill’s new car
the family’s new dog
In English if a noun or noun phrase is plural it usually already ends in the letter s, because the letter s (without an apostrophe) is used to indicate a plural noun. To form the possessive of a plural noun the general rule is to add the apostrophe (‘) after the existing s.
the cats’ food
the writers’ conference
the families’ new dogs
For irregular plural nouns you will need to add –‘s to the end of the word to indicate possession (just like you did for singular nouns).
the children’s toys
the mice’s cage
the people’s clothes
The correct way to write the English possessive becomes a bit trickier when talking about proper nouns (i.e. names) that end in –s. (For names that don’t end in the letter s just add –‘s to the end of the word.) There is some debate about what is “the right” way to write some of these names in the possessive form, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know or you don’t get it right – just try your best – some people think there is no one “right way” and in fact you can either add –‘s or just an apostrophe.
There is a grammar rule that says: add -’s to a all proper nouns regardless of whether they end in the letter s or any other letter. That sounds easy right? But others feel that you should not add –‘s to a proper noun that already ends in s. The reason some proper nouns that end in s do no get the –‘s to show possession is because the –‘s is not pronounced. Sometimes it sounds funny to native speakers to say the letter s multiple times in a row. So, some believe it is best to just add an apostrophe to show possession in these cases. I have found a rule about this that says: only add -‘s to a proper noun if you are actually going to say the extra s (i.e. as an additional syllable in the word) if you aren’t going to say the extra s don’t add it just use the apostrophe. Of course this rule is not very helpful for ESL students, who aren’t always sure when it is good to pronouns an extra s or not! And, there are no good rules for figuring out which proper nouns should have the extra letter s pronounced and which should not. Sorry. One helpful hint is that old, traditional, Greek or Latin names almost never get –‘s (to show possession) they just get the apostrophe. But new, modern names usually do have the –‘s added.
I hope that helps a little. Even though the idea of creating possessives in English is pretty straight forward – just add –‘s – carrying out this idea with words that already end in the letter s can get a little tricky.