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Apostrophe guidelines for possessives

Apostrophe guidelines for possessives

Author: Linda Neuman

This lesson explains the use of apostrophes to form possessives.

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Apostrophes and Possessives

This audio follows the text in this packet regarding apostrophes and possessives.

You can follow along with the text in this packet, or listen without the text.

Source: Linda Neuman

Using Apostrophes to Show Possession

Replacing a possessive phrase

Apostrophes can be used to shorten a bulky phrase that shows possession. 

It is not natural to say or write “I put the book belonging to Tom on the table.” It is much easier and more natural to say “I put Tom’s book on the table.”  This is called a singular possessive, because there is only one owner: Tom.  Just add an apostrophe and an “s” to show that Tom owns something: a book. 

Plural Possessives

If you want to say that more than one thing or person owns or possesses something, that is called a plural possessive and requires an apostrophe.  It does not, however, always require an “s.”

When to add an “s” after the apostrophe

If the plural form does not end in the letter “s,” you should add one.  Irregular plurals such as women and children need an apostrophe and an “s” to form a possessive.  

Examples of correct usage:

I usually read about women’s issues in that magazine.

The children’s pet hamster needed to be fed.

You will also need to add one “s” to show joint ownership of something:  Keisha and Sally’s project.  Only use one apostrophe and one “s,” and place them at the end of the last owner mentioned.

When NOT to add an “s” after the apostrophe

If the plural form already ends in “s,” as most do, add only an apostrophe to form a possessive.  The norm for pluralizing a noun is to add an “s” such as in apples, trains, boys, etc.

Examples of correct usage:

He joined the boys’ soccer team at summer camp.

Most trains’ sleeper berths are small but comfortable.

Rule of thumb for plural possessives:

If your pluralized word ends in “s,” it doesn’t need another one. 

Just add the apostrophe. 


And now a word about pronoun possessives…

Pronouns that show possession do NOT need an apostrophe.  Ever. 

You might need to add an “s,” but you will never need to add an apostrophe. 

Examples: hers, theirs, its, yours, ours

What about Jules and Cyrus?

Both these names end in the letter “s.”  Yet each may follow a different rule when forming a possessive.  Why?  Because the sound that “s” makes is not the same for each name.

The name “Jules” has a “z” sound.  It may be difficult to say that sound followed by a hard “s” sound.  So in the case of Jules, traditional rules dictate that only the apostrophe should be added to form a possessive. 

Examples of correct usage:

I needed to borrow Miles’ bike to get to the store.

Did you know Mary Jones’ dogs both won blue ribbons?

The Waters’ residence is up for sale.  OR

The Waterses’ residence is up for sale.

(In the case of surnames ending in “s,” if you mean to refer to everyone in the Waters family who lives in the house for sale, it is becoming common practice to first pluralize “Waters” to “the Waterses” and then add an apostrophe.)

The name “Cyrus” has a hard “s” sound.  It is easier to say two hard “s” sounds together, so it is appropriate to add both an apostrophe and an extra “s” to this name to form a possessive.

Examples of correct usage:

I didn’t want Travis’s little brother to hear us.

Jonas’s papers on fruit fly migration were outstanding.