The Possessive Apostrophe Made Easy The Possessive Apostrophe Made Easy | Shades of Crimson

The Possessive Apostrophe Made Easy

by Davina on March 4, 2011

You know, if you’re a writer, it doesn’t hurt to review grammar and punctuation rules once in a while, especially these days. So much of our communication is online and folk have become, for the most part, informal in their writing style because they are writing the way they speak.

Even more important than grammar, in my opinion, is proper punctuation. Writers can get away with using creative licence in the name of artistic style, defying grammar rules; however, incorrect use of the apostrophe will make a writer appear sloppy, and less credible. And not only that, in some cases it can misconstrue the meaning of the sentence.

Using apostrophe s forms the possessive — but not always. While reviewing my notes, I recalled my frustration early on, about how to understand the use of the apostrophe; especially how to use the apostrophe when forming the plural possessive.

How do you know when to put the apostrophe before or after the s?

How to form the plural possessive

It’s easy, and it all depends on whether or not you need to add the letter s to form the plural of the noun.

Take the word child, for example. When writing the singular possessive form, if you were writing about the relationship of one child to their toy, you would be writing about the child’s toy, adding an apostrophe s.

The word children is known as an irregular plural form, because it is derived from the word child. Since the plural form of child is children, with no s, if you were writing about the relationship of a group of children and their toys, you would be writing about the children’s toys. You would add an apostrophe s, because the word children is already plural.

Don’t be tempted to write this with the apostrophe after the s: childrens’ or worse — childrens’s.

The following example demonstrates a singular and plural possessive used in the same sentence. Here, the plural form of the noun does not require an s:

The child’s toy was donated to a local children’s day care centre.

If the plural form of the word already has the letter s at the end — such as babies — form the plural possessive by inserting the apostrophe after the s.

This example demonstrates a singular and plural possessive used in the same sentence where the plural form of the noun does require an s:

The baby’s name was chosen from a list of popular babies’ names.

Common singular and plural possessive forms

Here are some examples of commonly used words that cause confusion for writers when using the apostrophe.

Singular and Plural Possessives

SingularSingular PossessivePluralPlural Possessive
womanwoman'swomenwomen's
manman'smenmen's
ladylady'sladiesladies'
girlgirl'sgirlsgirls'
writerwriter'swriterswriters'
storystory'sstoriesstories'
hostesshostess'shostesseshostesses'
companycompany'scompaniescompanies'
bossboss'sbossesbosses'
toothtooth'steethteeth's

Follow this simple guideline when forming the singular and plural possessive:

1. If you have to add an s to form the possessive, whether singular or plural, insert the apostrophe before the s.

2. If the plural form of the word already has an s at the end, insert the apostrophe after the s.

It’s that simple!

If you would rather let me take care of these details for you, my editorial and proofreading services are for hire.

What possessive plural confuses you?

Photo Credit: Polandeze

 

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{ 22 comments }

Susan Deborah March 5, 2011 at 12:07 am

Davina:

Being a student and teacher of English, I have observed that most people are not quite sure about their apostrophe use. Sometimes, even seasoned writers need to pause and think before they use an apostrophe.

Davina, thanks for time and again enabling me to review my writing skills. I would be very happy if you could do a post on prepositions. Prepositions are quite confusing but nevertheless an important part and parcel of writing as well as speaking.

Joy always,
Susan
Susan Deborah´s last blog post ..Under the radar at all times

Mike March 5, 2011 at 8:04 am

Like most things with grammar, getting it right, for me, comes from learning it right to begin with.

Fortunately, I “usually” get the possessive apostrophe right, but, then again, I was told in college that I should have been an English major — “Today, my use of the English language is what feels right for me. And usually, not always, what feels right is right… because that’s the way I learned it.”
Mike´s last blog post ..Green!

Hilary March 5, 2011 at 11:18 am

Hi Davina .. I’m quite lucky – and usually get it right .. though I do note I type away quite happily using the wrong their, or your sometimes – irritates me to hell! I have no idea how I came to be able to write reasonably well – and my comprehension of grammar leaves much to be desired .. it just happens and is just so! I know I can improve it .. one day and I know where you are – when time and life are easier.

Cheers and so glad you gave us the examples .. good reference to come back to .. enjoy the rest of the weekend .. Hilary
Hilary´s last blog post ..How a play came to be written Samuel Pepys- Robert Hooke

Jannie Funster March 5, 2011 at 11:19 am

Hey, Davina, I’ve always written womens’ and mens’ and probably teeths’, so I guess I’ve been confused a long time. Or maybe was never taught those.

I am thankful when I write on my iPhone it automatically corrects the it’s and its, those do trip me up a bit unless I consciously think of the context.

xoxo
Jannie Funster´s last blog post ..The Queen Of The Castle — in 55 words

Dot March 5, 2011 at 11:25 am

Hi Davina, I learned this rule in high school (45 years ago), and was fine, until a few years back I read that the rules were changing and the “s” was being added back to the plural possessive. (Probably because our unschooled younger generation can’t get it right.) So that’s what I did, until now when I’m reading here that the old rule is back or possibly never even left. Thanks for the update.
Dot´s last blog post ..Medical and Otherwise Update

Delena Silverfox@Coupon Codes March 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Yay! I’m really not crazy! No matter what I’ve seen, it seems like I’m the only one these days who still cares about where the apostrophe actually belongs. It kinda makes me want to cry when I see things like “babie’s” or “babies’s.” Then I’m glad it’s only online, because I’d be shaking these people by the lapels and screaming.

Then again, it could just be me. When I was in elementary school, my friends would pass me notes and I would correct them in red pen and pass them back. *blush*

Delena
Delena Silverfox@Coupon Codes´s last blog post ..Hostgator Coupon Code

Davina March 6, 2011 at 1:51 am

Hi Susan.
Exactly! I have to stop and think about some of these, especially for women’s and men’s plural possessive. You’re very welcome… I’m happy that this is helping you. I’d love to do a post for you on prepositions. Thanks for the request. I’ll see what I can come up with.

Hi Mike.
True that once you learn the wrong way, it’s hard to unlearn it. And with the English language there are many exceptions to keep track of.

Thanks for sharing that link to your post. I can definitely understand what you’re saying — writing is hard work when you do it for a living. It’s true that if you don’t use what you know regularly you lose it. Plus, there are a variety of writing styles online, and it’s easy to pick up bad habits.

I was brushing up on my grammar skills, recently; choosing the correct pronoun form, for example. There are so many examples that sound wrong when they are grammatically correct.

Hi Hilary.
Hey, that’s great — another one who’s got it! :) Yes, that happens to me all the time too… their vs they’re and you vs you’re. Argh! :) This is the way it is for so many people — they just write it but they’re not aware of the rules they are following. It reminds me of math class when we couldn’t just show our answer; we had to explain how we got the answer.

Hi Jannie.
How’s Funster doing? :) LOL, teeth’s sounds so funny, with or without an apostrophe. That alone is enough to make a writer *and* a reader pause. The it’s and its catch me a lot too. I’m constantly wanting to write it’s to form possessive when it means “it is.” It’s easy to do when you’re in a hurry.

Hi Dot.
You’re welcome. It’s hard to keep track when they keep changing the rules. It also makes it interesting when there are a variety of resources out there and they all have their preference. And then, if you are writing for a client, chances are you will have to toss out what you know in favour of their preference.

Hi Delana.
LOL… no, you’re not crazy! I love that you would correct your friends’ notes in school. That’s great. I bet you have friends that point out errors to you when you do happen to make them. You’ve gotta love that eh? Their triumphant smile at catching *you*.

I can certainly understand your frustration about babies’s, hehe. I’m glad I’m not the only one :-)

Hilary March 6, 2011 at 2:02 am

Hi Davina .. oddly I had a query re exactly this .. but I’ve forgotten where it was & hit the ‘go’ button … if I remember I’ll be back to ask … ?! Cheers H
Hilary´s last blog post ..How a play came to be written Samuel Pepys- Robert Hooke

patricia March 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Very good for me to have these updates…I wish I was making some money because I would love to pay you to correct my mistakes.

Then of course, we would both be making more funds, which would improve so many spirits and we could purchase spirits with which to celebrate.

I rode on my parent’s coattails when it comes to grammar. Their command of the English language was so masterful and well established by the Canadian School system, I just had to think how they would say something and never had to learn grammar. I just do not know the rules and yet still was able to get by.

I practiced until I mastered the improper use of me and I at the end of a sentence in order to rebel against my mother as a teenager. Unfortunately, I still have incredible amounts of difficulty correcting myself and changing the pattern now years later, because it sounds so right to my ear. Sometimes rebellion comes back to bite one later on – consequence.

Thank you Davina…a great post and a remarkable read.
patricia´s last blog post ..Walking a Puppy II – A Meditation

John Hoff March 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

Hi D.

It’s funny because my wife and I just had this discussion the other day. She gets confused sometimes when and where she’s suppose to use the ‘. I’ll show her your article… makes perfect sense!

Vered | Blogger for Hire March 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

You make it sound so easy! A true pro.

Delena Silverfox@Coupon Codes March 7, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Y’know, just the other night I was having a conversation with my boyfriend about grammar and how, because of online jargon and text messaging, bad grammar is not only socially acceptable but is taken as proper use of vernacular. Even spelling and pronunciation is considered correct if it’s the commonly (mis)used one.

For speed and convenience’s sake, I suppose proper grammar will never win out over easy and effortless (entropy works with brain power, too).

(Also, what do you say about a post exploring dangling participles or parts of speech? Or why it’s heinous to end a sentence with a proposition?)

Delena
Delena Silverfox@Coupon Codes´s last blog post ..GoDaddy Coupon Code

Davina March 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Okydoky, Hilary :)

Patricia,
LOL… that’s the spirit! :-D I like the way you think. I think that’s the case with a lot of folk. We all get by fine, really; the messages get across. It is an empowering feeling, however, to master something and to know the rules, even if you don’t always follow them. At least you know when you are breaking them and why.

And, you’re welcome. I’m starting to enjoy this; knowing that folk are benefiting. I’m receiving requests for specific topics and am loving that.

John,
That’s too funny! Sometimes I have to stop and think about this too. That’s why I decided to come up with a logical way to remember the correct placement. Glad to hear this will be of use to your wife. Thanks for passing it along.

Vered,
That’s the goal… to make it easy. It helps to have a logical approach to remembering these kinds of “rules.”

Delena,
Yeah, those “errors” become trends that are widely accepted because they are so prevalent, especially with texting short forms. I think you’re right that proper grammar will not win over effortless; for sure. Social media has changed the way we communicate in a big way. I wonder what the long-term effects will be?

Thanks for the topic suggestion. That makes three so far (one on Twitter). I’m making note of them and will see what I can come up with in the coming weeks. I’m enjoying the requests. It’s great to know what people need as opposed to writing about what I think might be useful.

Alien Ghost March 9, 2011 at 9:52 am

Hi Davina,

Sometimes all those “little details” take more time than writing the idea.
Thank you for the explanation, you make it really simple to understand!

Raul
Alien Ghost´s last blog post ..Bits

Davina March 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Hi Raul.
Thanks! I’m glad this has helped you. I’ve had to stop and think about these in the past and it really slows you down. Plus, it tempts you to just guess and keep going. Sometimes you guess wrong.

Barbara Swafford March 10, 2011 at 1:08 am

Hi Davina,

I remember learning this in school, but it’s one of those “rules” I still mess up on. I don’t have too much of a problem when it comes to a sentence where I’m only writing about a single plural, i.e. like Davina’s, but when I start writing about plural plurals, i.e. like “Writers’ Blogk” (remember, you caught that boo-boo of mine), that’s when I get stumped.

Sometimes if I’m in doubt, I just drop the apostrophe and hope no one notices. Haha! :lol:
Barbara Swafford´s last blog post ..How Do You Do It

Hilary March 10, 2011 at 1:19 am

Hi Davina .. where’s the favicon – Barbara made for you?

Cheers H… or what is it?!
Hilary´s last blog post ..How a play came to be written Samuel Pepys- Robert Hooke

Davina March 10, 2011 at 2:09 am

Hi Barbara.
This really is a tricky one, isn’t it? Especially when you’re dealing with a word that is in the plural form *and* you want to make it show possessive. In the case of Writers’ Blogk you could write it as Writer’s Blogk or Writers’ Blogk. I’m glad you’ve mentioned this because it brings up a good point — there is a grey area here.

For example, in the case of Writers’ Blogk, you are referring to a writing space for a group of writers. Because you’re referring to a group, you obviously need to add an “s” to make it plural. Since “Blogk” belongs TO the group of writers, you need to insert the apostrophe… after the s, because the s is already forming the plural of the word.

If you were referring to the Blogk as being for just one writer, then you wouldn’t need to add an “s” to make writer plural; you would add apostrophe s to show possession.

Hi Hilary,
The favicon is that tiny logo you see in the browser window at the top of the screen, right next to the url. When you’re on Barbara’s blog, you will see a white “B” in a red box… that is her favicon. The favicon on your blog is the Blogspot logo.

I love Barbara’s favicon. “B” for Barbara, Blogging and B just to “Be” — LOL.

Davina March 10, 2011 at 2:24 am

LOL, Barbara,
I just noticed that last sentence in your comment. Naughty, naughty. *wagging finger* :) I don’t think bloggers would stop reading your blog if you left the apostrophes off. Actually, can you imagine if the apostrophe didn’t exist?

I’m thinking of words such as youre and theyre, for example.

steven papas March 14, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Excellent examples Davina! And yes, we need to review grammar and punctuation rules often. Another thing that is very common in blogs, is the confussion between “its” and “it’s”; for example, they say “estimate it’s significance” instead of “its significance”.
steven papas´s last blog post ..Garmin GPS 60CSx Handheld Navigator Review

Sara March 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Davina,

I think you made very clear. I appreciate this grammar lesson and agree that grammar is something that we need to pay attention to in our writing. It does help the reader better understand our words.

This is so funny…I nervously typing and hoping that I don’t any grammar mistakes…as if:~)
Sara´s last blog post ..Story Photo- Old Picture

Davina March 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Hi Stephen.
Yes, you’re right… I see it’s vs its all the time. And sometimes both are used and in the same piece *and* in the wrong place, lol.

Hi Sara.
I read something you wrote today and saw you used men’s correctly :-) Well done! I have to laugh… you’re taking extra care now. This is good… you are thinking. I like that. But don’t worry, there are no penalties in the blogosphere if you make a such a mistake. At least, not on my blog.

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