An apostrophe and the letter s are often used to show possession. For
example, the boy's house.
Apostrophes for Possession
Take the girl's hand and place it on the cushion.
(hand belonging to the girl)
I had to remove
Peter's label and replace it.
(label belonging to Peter)
Leave the mouse's dinner alone.
Wagner's music is better than it sounds.
(Mark Twain quote)
A foolish woman knows a foolish man's faults.
A friend's eye is a good mirror.
A guest should be blind in another man's house.
Goat's milk is used more widely throughout the world than cow's milk.
In each example above, the apostrophe appears before the s. This is
because the hand belongs to one girl, the label belongs to one boy
(i.e., Peter), the dinner belongs to one mouse, etc. However, it is possible for the apostrophe to appear after the
s. This happens when more than one person (or thing) owns the object (or objects).
The horses' hay is damp.
(hay belonging to the horses)
(Note: more than one horse - apostrophe after the s)
The ladies' toilets are out of bounds.
(toilets belonging to the ladies)
(Note: more than one lady - apostrophe after the s)
The fairies' wings glistened in the moonlight.
Exception to the Rule (Plural Nouns Not Ending s)
Mistakes with apostrophes are very common. One reason for this is the number of exceptions to the rules above. For example, plural words which do not end in the letter
s (e.g., men, people and children) have the apostrophe before the
s when showing possession.
He is the people's poet.
All television is children's television.
(Richard P. Adler)
Zeus does not bring all men's plans to fulfilment.
(Homer (800 BC - 700 BC))
childrens' presents in the hall until they have gone to bed.
[correct the example]
(apostrophe should be
before the s to show possession with plural words not ending in s)
My watch was stolen from the
men's changing room.
Exception to the Rule (Singular Nouns Ending s)
To make things even more complicated, singular words which end in
s (e.g., Charles, Wales, Paris and Dickens) can end in just an apostrophe
or 's when showing possession.
It is Charles' birthday.
It is Charles's birthday.
Charles' or Charles's pal (both correct)
I have not seen Wales' new stadium.
(or Wales's )
Les' or Les's
wife (both versions correct)
Both Charles' birthday and Charles's birthday are grammatically correct. However, as a guideline, you should use the version which best matches how you would pronounce it. In other words, use
Charles's if you pronounce it "Charlesiz", but use Charles' if you pronounce it "Charles".
Dr Evans' report
(for those who pronounce it "Dr Evans report")
Dr Evans's report
(for those who pronounce it "Dr Evansiz report")
Miss Williams' victory
(for those who pronounce it "Miss Williams victory")
Miss Williams's victory
(for those who pronounce it "Miss Williamsiz victory")
IT Solutions' conference
(for those who pronounce it "IT Solutions conference") (where "IT Solutions" is considered as singular)
IT Solutions's conference
(for those who pronounce it "IT Solutionsiz conference")
Exception to the Rule
Here is another quirk. Some compound nouns (e.g.,
sister-in-law) do not form their plurals by adding s to the end.
The s is appended to the principal word (i.e., the plural is sisters-in-law). With a noun like this, the possessive form is created by adding
's to the end, regardless of whether it is singular or plural.
maid of honour's bouquet
maids of honour's dresses
Apostrophes with Joint OwnershipFinally, joint ownership is shown by making the last word in the series possessive; whereas, individual ownership is shown by making both (or all) parts possessive.
Andrew and Jacob's
factory (joint ownership)
(note: only the last part is possessive)
Andrew's and Jacob's
(note: both parts are possessive)
(Without context, it will be assumed that Andrew has one factory and Jacob has
one factory. Another construction is required if this is not the case: "Andrew's
factories and Jacob's factories" is one option.)
India and Pakistan's
(common to both)
India's and Pakistan's
GENERALLY, THE RULING IS: |
BEFORE FOR SINGULAR
AFTER FOR PLURAL
To show singular possession - apostrophe before the s:
the cat's dinner
the cat's dinners
To show plural possession - apostrophe after the s:
the cats' dinner
(more than one cat)
the cats' dinners
(more than one cat)
THE RULES ARE COMPLEX, BUT NEVER PUT AN APOSTROPHE IN THE WORD ITSELF |
An apostrophe that shows possession never appears inside the word
(the word is "Dickens")
The ladie's coats
(the word is "ladies")
the cat's dinner
(when referring to
"cats") (For one "cat", this would be correct.)
IT'S HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POSSESSION
It's is a contraction of
it is or it
has. This is a 100% rule. It has nothing to do with
possession. The word its (without an apostrophe) is
used for possession.
know its name. I saw its nametag.
(its used for possession)
know it's coming soon.
(it's expands to it is)
was it's maiden voyage.
(its is not used for possession)
(should be: its)
See lesson It's an Its.