Possessives show ownership, i.e., that something belongs to someone or something else.

How to Show Possession

English has three main rules to show possession: 

  1. For singular nouns, and plural nouns that don’t end in s, add ’s.

    • e.g., He placed the notebook on the student’s desk. 

    • e.g., He placed the notebooks on the children’s desks.
  2. For plural nouns that end in s, add only an apostrophe.
    • e.g., He placed notebooks on all the students’ desks.
  3. For singular nouns that end in s, you can choose whether to add only an apostrophe after the original s or add an ’s after the original s. 

    • e.g., He placed the notebook on James’ desk, or;

    • e.g., He placed the notebook on James’s desk.

Whether you choose ’s or only an apostrophe for singular nouns ending in s is a stylistic choice. Choose one and be consistent.

Avoiding Possession Errors

Here are some of the key errors that writers make when using possessives:

Error Incorrect Correct

Putting an apostrophe before the final s of a singular noun 

e.g., Jame’s book. James’ or James’s

Pluralizing a noun with ’s 

e.g., I read four story’s. stories

Pluralizing a family name with ’s 

e.g., The Walker’s came with us to the restaurant. Walkers

Using a singular possessive when you really need a plural 

e.g., They had a girl’s night out. girls’

Leaving the apostrophe out entirely 

e.g., The womens change room

e.g., The girls change room

women’s; girls’

Using an apostrophe with a possessive adjective

e.g., They said the book was their’s. theirs

Practice with Possessives

Fill in the blank with s, ’s, or s’ (check the answers in the next section).

  1. The leaders took the group___ manifesto to the government. (singular)

  2. The study examined the effect of children___ playgroups on development.

  3. It was difficult to distinguish which ideas were his and which ideas were her___.

  4. They researched several different compan___ before investing. 

  5. They were interested in each compan___ human rights record.

  6. I left a messages on my boss___ voicemail.

  7. The Berke___ went up to the Bechard___ cottage for the weekend.

  8. It was the author___ opinion that the data was inadequate. (plural)

  9. On the weekend we went to the Farmer___ Market.  

  10. They sat down together to play domino___.

Possessives Practice Answers

  1. group's
  2. children's
  3. hers
  4. companies
  5. company's
  6. boss's or boss'
  7. Berkes; Bechards'
  8. authors'
  9. farmers'
  10. domino's