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Belongings or possessions—whatever you want to call them—we all have them. But, how do we talk about them? The answer is with possessives.
This explanation will show you the different rules for forming possessives, how to navigate possessives using "-s", and see plenty of examples along the way.
To begin, let's look at a definition of possessives:
Possessives refer to the words and word forms we use to show the relationship between items and their owners.
The way we show possession depends on how the word is used within a sentence, and possessives can appear in the form of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives.
We typically use the "possessive" or "genitive" case to show possession—these two terms are often used interchangeably. The most common example of the genitive case is adding the suffix "-s" to the end of a subject that owns an item.
That is Charlotte's bag.
Now that we have a good idea of what possessives are and why we use them, let's look at some general rules for forming possessives. We will look at:
Possessives and nouns
Possessives and pronouns
Possessives and adjectives
Possessives ending in the letter "s"
When we form possessives, we typically need to modify a noun in some way – after all, it's much easier for a noun to own something than a verb!
Nouns are one of the main parts of speech (word classes). A noun is a naming word that describes 'things' - these could be physical things, such as animals, people, buildings etc., or abstract things, such as love.
To show possession, a noun must go through an inflectional process. This typically means adding a letter/group of letters (i.e., an affix) to the word to show grammatical change.
For singular nouns, such as cat, man, girl, and tree, we add an apostrophe (') and the suffix "-s" to the end of the word.
Suffix – An affix (letter/group of letters) added to the end of a word.
For plural nouns that end in the letter "s", e.g., trees, we simply add an apostrophe to the end of the word.
For irregular plural nouns, such as women, feet, and children, we once again add an apostrophe and an "-s" to the end of the word.
Singular noun – The tree's leaves
Plural noun – The boys' soccer ball
Irregular plural noun – The women's knitting group
Did you know the apostrophe used before the "s" to show possession is called the possessive apostrophe?
Collective nouns (i.e., a word used for a group of people or animals) follow the same rules as singular nouns.
Team – Team's
Herd – Herd's
Staff – Staff's
Possessive pronouns are the same as any other pronoun in that they replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence.
Pronouns are words or groups of words that can replace a noun. They help us to avoid repetition.
Ownership is shown by replacing the owner and owned object (e.g., her bag) with a possessive pronoun (e.g., hers).
It is Charlotte's bag. --> It is hers.
That is my card. --> That is mine.
The possessive pronouns are:
You → Yours
My → Mine
He → His (can also replace male proper nouns, e.g., It's Imran's --> It's his)
Her → Hers (can also replace female proper nouns, e.g., It's Claire's --> It's hers)
Our → Ours
Their → Theirs
We use possessive adjectives before the owned object to show possession. They are considered adjectives as they provide extra information about the noun by describing the owner.
The possessive adjectives are:
I → My
You → Your
He → His
Her → Hers
It → Its
We → Our
They → Their
The possessive adjective "its" does not contain an apostrophe. This is to avoid confusion with the contraction "it's" (i.e., it has, or it is).
That's my dog.
Welcome to our home.
They picked up their tickets and made their way to the station.
Possessive adjectives can also be considered possessive pronouns, as they similarly replace a noun or noun phrase and show ownership. Possessive adjectives are pronominal, meaning they have similar features or functions to pronouns.
Is that Katy's lunch? No, it's her dinner!
Sometimes, you'll come across a word that you wish to make plural, but it already ends in the letter "s". No worries, there are a few guidelines to help you decide what to do in this situation.
If the word is in its singular form and ends with an "s", you should still add an apostrophe and an "-s".
They were looking for Jess's phone.
If the word is in its plural form and ends with an "s", place a single apostrophe at the end of the word—after the last "s".
We are going over to the Smiths' house.
It's important to note that some people, including the Associated Press Stylebook (AP), are in favor of simply adding an apostrophe to the end of any word ending in "s" whether it's single or plural. For example, "Jess' phone." It's best to check with your teacher to find out which style is preferred in your school.
There is one exception (of course!) regarding historical and Biblical names. If the name ending in "s" has only one syllable, we add an apostrophe and an "-s" to the end. However, if the name has two or more syllables, then we just add an apostrophe.
One syllable – Zeus -Zeus's
Three syllables – Hercules - Hercules'
Try saying both of these examples aloud. The agreement on using the apostrophe plus "-s" in this way is likely because of pronunciation and the way the names sound.
Again, there are conflicting ideas about this concept. As a general rule of thumb, try saying the possessive a loud and seeing what sounds best.
So, we now know all the different types of possessives and the rules for figuring them out. Let's recap our new knowledge with some further examples and a handy chart representing possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives.
|Subject||Possessive Pronouns||Possessive Adjectives|
Possessives are the words and word forms we use to show the relationship between items and their owners. Some examples include:
Possessives are the words and suffixes we assign to other words that show the relationship between items and whoever or whatever possesses them. Depending on the way the word is used, possessives can be nouns, pronouns, or adjectives.
Five examples of possessives include:
There are many more possessives than this selection, and possessives can also be formed by adding an apostrophe and "-s" to other words (e.g., the dog's bowl).
A possessive noun is when a noun has been inflected to show that the noun owns or possesses something. An instance of a possessive noun is "child's". The noun "child" has been inflected by adding an apostrophe and "-s" to create a possessive noun. It now shows that the child owns something.
Ten examples of possessive pronouns include:
Which of these is NOT a description for "possessives"?
Things that a person owns
Briefly describe what an inflectional process is.
An inflectional process is when a letter or group of letters are added to a word to change its meaning.
What is the name for a letter or group of letters that is added to a word to change its meaning?
Which of these words can be made possessive by adding an apostrophe and "s"?
Which of these phrases referring to ONE dog is grammatically correct?
The dog's bowl
What are the 10 possessive pronouns?
Why does the possessive pronoun "its" not contain an apostrophe?
To avoid confusion with the contractions "it's" meaning "it is" or "it has"
Which of these does NOT relate to a possessive adjective?
What does "pronominal" mean?
Functioning similarly to a pronoun.
True or false, if a word is singular and ends in an "s", you should always add and apostrophe and an "-s" to create a possessive.
False, some people and organizations do not use this rule and simply add an apostrophe after singular words ending in "s". You should check this with your teacher to ensure you are using the preferred style.
With historical and Biblical names, how does the number of syllables affect the process of forming a possessive?
If the name ending in "s" has only one syllable, we add an apostrophe and an "-s" to the end. However, if the name has two or more syllables, then we just add an apostrophe.
Disclaimer: Some organisations may disagree
What kind of word can be made possessive by adding an apostrophe to the end?
Plural nouns ending in "s"
What is the word "you"?
Which of these phrases is correct when referring to multiple sheep?
The sheep's pen
Why are possessive adjectives considered adjectives?
They add extra information to the noun by describing the owner.
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