Apostrophe after S

by Craig Shrives

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Apostrophe after S (with Examples)

When showing possession, the apostrophe goes after the "s" when the possessor is plural. For example:
  • The hamsters' cage
  • (This is the cage of more than one hamster, so the apostrophe goes after the "s.")
The apostrophe also goes after the "s" when the possessor is singular and ends with an "s." For example:
  • Moses' tablets
Here is a summary of the apostrophe-placement rules we will cover on this page:
apostrophe before or after s

Apostrophe Placement Rules

We now know that the apostrophe goes after the "s" when the possessor is plural. Therefore, it stands to reason that the apostrophe goes before the "s" when the possessor is singular.
  • The hamster's cage
  • (This is correct for one hamster; i.e., the apostrophe goes before the "s.")
  • The hamsters' cage
  • (This is correct for more than one hamster; i.e., the apostrophe goes after the "s.")

What Is the Possessor?

In the examples above, the hamster (or the hamsters) is the "possessor." In other words, it is the thing or things that owns whatever follows (in this case, the cage). Here are some more examples:
  • The boy's game
  • (In this example, the possessor is "boy." Note that the apostrophe goes before the "s.")
  • The boys' game
  • (Here, the possessor is "boys." Note that the apostrophe goes after the "s.")
Be aware that the ideas of possession or ownership are used very loosely. Possessive apostrophes do not always relate to actual possession or ownership. For example:
  • Rembrandt's painting
  • (In this example, the possessor is "Rembrandt." However, this could be a painting by Rembrandt. Rembrandt might not physically own it.)
  • The girls' representative
  • (Here, the possessor is "girls." However, this is likely to be a representative for the girls. The girls do not physically own their representative.)

Only the Possessor Matters

Only the possessor matters when it comes to apostrophe placement. The number of things being possessed is irrelevant. For example:
  • The hamster's cage.
  • (one hamster, one cage)
  • The hamster's cages.
  • (one hamster, lot of cages)
  • The hamsters' cage.
  • (lots of hamsters, one cage)
  • The hamsters' cages.
  • (lots of hamsters, lots of cages)
In other words, in these examples, only the number of hamsters matters. The number of cages is irrelevant.

Summary of These Rules (with Exceptions)

Unfortunately, there are some exceptions to the rules covered so far. Here is a summary of all the rules, including the exceptions:

Rules for placing the apostrophe before or after the "s"

When the possessor is singular, the apostrophe goes before the "s."
  • man's shirt
When the possessor is plural, the apostrophe goes after the "s."
  • ladies' bathroom
Exceptions to the rules

When the possessor is singular but ends "s," the apostrophe goes after the "s."
  • Wales' emblem
  • (Note that "Wales's emblem" is also acceptable. You have a choice that depends on how you (yes, you personally) say it.)
When the possessor is plural but doesn't end "s," the apostrophe goes before the "s."
  • men's bathroom
Do a final check!

Once you've put your possessive apostrophe in place, the letters to the left of the apostrophe should be the possessor spelled perfectly. Look at the examples above, the possessors are man, ladies, Wales, and men.

The History of the Possessive Apostrophe

The main function of an apostrophe is to replace a missing letter (e.g., "can't," "doesn't"). This is related to the possessive apostrophe.

In old English, possession was shown by adding es to the possessor regardless of whether the possessor was singular or plural. For example:
  • hamsteres dinner (for one hamster)
  • hamsterses dinner (for several hamsters)
  • womanes dinner (for one woman)
  • womenes dinner (for several women)
  • Moseses dinner (for Moses)
Over time, the "e" was replaced by an apostrophe to reflect how these words were spoken. If the new ending did not sound right (typically because of an -s's ending, then the second s was removed.

This process still works for everything. There are no exceptions.

(Step 1). Identify the possessor. For example:
  • hamster
  • hamsters
  • woman
  • women
  • Moses
(Step 2). Add es. For example:
  • hamsteres
  • hamsterses
  • womanes
  • womenes
  • Moseses
(Step 3). Replace the e with '. For example:
  • hamster's
  • hamsters's
  • woman's
  • women's
  • Moses's
(Step 4). If left with s's (which sounds awkward), simply remove the last s.
  • hamster's
  • hamsters'
  • woman's
  • women's
  • Moses'
This works for everything! There are no exceptions. Read more about using apostrophes.
Read more about using apostrophes to show possession.

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See Also

Using apostrophes Apostrophes for possession Apostrophe placement rules Apostrophe after z Apostrophe before s Apostrophes for awkward plurals Apostrophes after acronyms and abbreviations Apostrophes in contractions Apostrophes in expressions like 2 years' pay and a day's notice Apostrophes used incorrectly for plurals Apostrophe exercises Apostrophes in names Apostrophe misuse Apostrophes in contractions How do you write master's degree and bachelor's degree? "Apostrophes for possession" game (Tetris-style game) "Apostrophes in time expressions" game (Tetris-style game)

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