18 Aug Apostrophes and Possessives: the ‘s form
The owner of this hair and nail salon close to where I live should have paid more attention in class (or at least checked their grammar before getting this sign). Using an apostrophe + s to make a noun plural is incorrect – a very common mistake which unfortunately looks even worse on a shop window.
So how should we use the ‘s form?
The ‘good’ news for learners of English – you’re not the only ones who get confused. Even native speakers make mistakes when it comes to apostrophes. This sign in Northern Ireland cost around £1,200 to reprint after the misplaced apostrophe was spotted by the public.
We use an apostrophe + s to talk about possessions, relationships and characteristics. We don’t use the ‘s form to make plurals. Compare these sentences:
Did you get your nail‘s done? incorrect
Did you get your nails done? correct (singular: nail, plural: nails)
My mum‘s nails look great. correct (possessive)
We can also use an apostrophe + s to show that some letters have been omitted:
She’s leaving. She is leaving.
It’s hot. It is hot.
That’s not what I meant! That is not what I meant!
In this post, we’ll have a look at how and when we use the possessive ‘s form. Check out next week’s post for more information on plurals.
Instead of having to say ‘that’s the house of my father’, it’s much easier to say ‘that’s my father’s house’ – this is where the possessive ‘s form comes in. We use the possessive when the first noun refers to a person, an animal, a country, an organisation or any group of living things.
|My father's house||The house of my father|
|Fran's brother plays football||The brother of Fran plays football|
|John's eyes are like his mother's||The eyes of John are like the eyes of his mother|
|The dog's ears are infected||The ears of the dog are infected|
|The company's management is excellent||The management of the company is excellent|
|Switzerland's climate is changing||The climate of Switzerland is changing|
We can also use an ‘s to talk about something produced by someone:
Do you believe the boy’s story?
Have you read Mark’s latest Facebook post?
What are Switzerland’s main exports?
The company’s decision was rather unwise.
When talking about someone’s actions, we can either use ‘s or of – both are correct:
The president’s arrival. The arrival of the president.
We can also use ‘s with expressions of time:
last Monday’s meeting
last Sunday’s match
When not to use ‘s
We don’t use the possessive ‘s form with nouns that are not the names of people, animals, countries, etc. We usually use of in such cases:
|the name of the street||the street's name|
|the front of the room||the room's front|
|the bottom of the page||the page's bottom|
|the roof of the house||the house's roof|
However, as with any rule in English, there are some exceptions. With these expressions, both ‘s and of are considered correct:
the earth’s gravity the gravity of the earth
the train’s arrival the arrival of the train
Confusing, indeed – unfortunately, no fixed rules exist. It all depends on the expression, so my advice is to read as much as possible and, when in doubt, look the phrase you’d like to use up online and check the results.
|singular noun + 's||my mother's nails|
|plural noun + '||my parents' house
|irregular plural noun + 's||women's clothes
the children's room
With singular nouns, we add ‘s to the end of the noun. When a singular noun ends in -s, there are two ways we can show the possessive. We sometimes just add an apostrophe (‘) to the end of the noun:
Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’
However, there is a lot of discussion on whether this form is actually correct. Some style guides say that simply adding an apostrophe is enough when a noun ends in -s, whereas others say an apostrophe + s is required. When in doubt, choose one form and stick to it throughout your writing. Adding ‘s is more common:
Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’
We can also add ‘s or just an apostrophe to a whole phrase, for example:
The man next door’s dog pooped in front of our house.
When talking about something that belongs to two people, only the last noun gets an ‘s:
My mother and father’s car correct
My mother’s and father’s car incorrect
On the other hand, have a look at these two sentences:
Mark and Clarissa’s children one group of children with Mark and Clarissa as their parents
Mark’s and Clarissa’s children two groups of children, Mark’s and Clarissa’s
That’s it! Hopefully this clears things up – and if you’re thinking of spending money on a sign for your shop or business, do check your spelling or ask for advice!
Questions? Comments? Send a message or leave a comment!