Apostrophes in Possessives

A few months ago, I published a post called “Possessive Pronouns,” focusing on pronouns such as his, hers, and ours. Those are possessives, but they do NOT include an apostrophe.

Today’s group is more diverse, comprising words — including pronouns — that can stand alone when they’re not being used as possessive words.

You don’t have to look far to find words that were written as plurals but should have been treated as possessive. Recently I read these: “My aunts daughters, their friends cousins, and . . . ”  “She is someones favorite rock star!” “His brothers joy was due to . . .”

Why didn’t the authors realize those words were being used in a possessive way?

I think it’s because possessives have an s at the end as do regular plurals. It’s too easy to forget to read what we’ve written, and make sure that we’ve used the apostrophe in a word ending in s when it’s being used as a possessive.

Here is information from my Brush Up on Your American Grammar Skills workbook, and it’s a page we spend a lot of time on in my classes.

A noun ending in s followed immediately by another noun is usually in the possessive form, which shows a relationship (not ownership) between them. This relationship may be between humans, other animate beings, inanimate objects, or ideas.

You can verify possessives by turning the original two-word phrase around and inserting of or of the between the words. If it makes sense, it’s a possessive phrase. This also helps you focus on the word to make possessive, the first word of the original pair. It’s your base word, and you need to know if it’s singular or plural before trying to make it possessive.

For example, depending on context:
The students accounts could be “the accounts of the student”
or “the accounts of the students.”
The walls color could be “the color of the wall” or “the color of the walls.”

You, the writer, should know whether you’re writing about one or more than one; once you know that, find the appropriate rule below.

1. If the base word is singular, add an apostrophe and s.
IF the students accounts = accounts of the student = the student’s accounts
IF the walls color = color of the wall = the wall’s color
IF tonights specials = specials of tonight = tonight’s specials

2. If the base word is a regular plural (one ending in s), add just the apostrophe.
IF the students accounts = accounts of the students = the students’ accounts
IF the walls color = color of the walls = the walls’ colors
IF the kids toys = toys of the kids = the kids’ toys.

3.  If the base word is an irregular plural, one not ending in s, add an apostrophe and s.
childrens toys = toys of the children = children’s toys
mens (womens) room = room of the men (women) = men’s (women’s) room
peoples choice = choice of the people = people’s choice

(Number 3 should be the easiest to recognize because the words are already plural without the s. It’s not possible to have plural plurals, so the s must be used for another reason.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *