Apostrophe before S

by Craig Shrives

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Apostrophe before S (with Examples)

When using a possessive apostrophe, the apostrophe goes before the "s" when the possessor is singular. For example:
  • The horse's hay
  • (This is the hay of one horse, so the apostrophe is before "s.")
  • A planet's atmosphere
  • (This is the atmosphere of one planet, so the apostrophe is before "s.")
The apostrophe also goes before the "s" when the possessor is plural but does not end with an "s." For example:
  • The children's toys
  • The people's vote
  • The men's bathroom
Here is a summary of the apostrophe-placement rules on this page:
apostrophe before or after s

Apostrophe Placement Rules

As covered so far, the apostrophe goes before the "s" when the possessor is singular. Conversely, the apostrophe goes after the "s" when the possessor is plural.
  • The horses' hay
  • (This is correct for more than one horse; i.e., the apostrophe goes after the "s.")
  • The horse's hay
  • (This is correct for one horse; i.e., the apostrophe goes before the "s.")

What Is the Possessor?

In the two examples above, "horses" and "horse" are the "possessors." They are the things that own whatever follows (in this case, the hay). Here are some more examples:
  • The girl's haircut
  • (In this example, the possessor is "girl." Note that the apostrophe goes before the "s.")
  • The girls' choice
  • (Here, the possessor is "girls." Note that the apostrophe goes after the "s.")
Be aware that the notion of possession is used loosely. Possession does not always relate to physical ownership. For example:
  • Michelangelo's sculpture
  • (Here, the possessor is "Michelangelo." However, this could be a sculpture by Michelangelo. He might not actually own it.)
  • The boys' changing room
  • (Here, the possessor is "boys." However, the changing room is for the boys. The boys do not actually own it.)

Look Only at the Possessor

Only the possessor is important when considering apostrophe placement. The number of things being possessed does not matter. For example:
  • The horse's meal.
  • (one horse, one meal)
  • The horse's meals.
  • (one horse, lot of meals)
  • The horses' meal.
  • (lots of horses, one meal)
  • The horses' meals.
  • (lots of horses, lots of meals)
Remember that only the number of horses matters. The number of meals 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."
  • woman's blouse
When the possessor is plural, the apostrophe goes after the "s."
  • girls' attitude
Exceptions to the rules

When the possessor is singular but ends "s," the apostrophe goes after the "s."
  • Jesus' hands
  • (Note that "Jesus's hands" 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."
  • women's clothes
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 woman, girls, Jesus, and women.

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:
  • horsees lunch (for one horse)
  • horseses lunch (for several horses)
  • womanes lunch (for one woman)
  • womenes lunch (for several women)
  • Moseses lunch (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:
  • horse
  • horses
  • woman
  • women
  • Moses
(Step 2). Add es. For example:
  • horsees
  • horseses
  • womanes
  • womenes
  • Moseses
(Step 3). Replace the e with '. For example:
  • horse's
  • horses's
  • woman's
  • women's
  • Moses's
(Step 4). If left with s's (which sounds awkward), simply remove the last s.
  • horse's
  • horses'
  • 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 s Apostrophe after z 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? Using brackets and parentheses Using colons Using commas Using dashes Using hyphens Using quotation marks Using semicolons "Apostrophes for possession" game (Tetris-style game) "Apostrophes in time expressions" game (Tetris-style game)

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