A possessive noun is a noun that names who or what owns or has possession of something. To show possession, we usually add an apostrophe ‘s to the noun.
Possessive ’s – with people
1. We can use ’s to describe relationships between people or people and objects.
- This is Martin’s camera. (NOT:
This is the camera of Martin.)
- We spent the day at my sister’s house.
- These are my boyfriend’s socks.
- Mr Lewis’s house is for sale.
2. Even if the singular noun is a proper noun (i.e. a name), we add ‘s.
- Tony is Ann’s (=her) husband. (NOT:
Tony is the husband of Ann.)
- Ann is Tony’s (=his) wife.
- Ann is Mark’s (=his) mother.
- Tony is Mark’s (=his) father.
3. If a name ends in ‘-s’, you can either add an apostrophe + s, or just an apostrophe. The first option is more common.
- This is Charles’s car (or Charles’ car).
1. When a plural noun ends in ‘-s‘ we write the apostrophe after the ‘s’:
- The two sisters’ house is next to mine. (= the house of the two sisters)
- The plumbers’ tools were rusty. (= the tools of the plumbers)
- Mark’s sisters’ names are Ann and Julia. (NOT:
Mark’s sister’s names are…’)
- (‘Mark’ is singular but ‘sisters’ is plural.)
- Mark’s parents’ names are Ann and Tony.
2. If a plural noun doesn’t end in ‘s’ (irregular), use ’s as normal:
- Ann is the children’s mother.
- This shop only sells women’s clothes.
Let’s summarize how to form possessive form of singular and plural nouns:
Possessive nouns as part of a phrase
1. Sometimes more than one word/noun are used to show possession. Here, we add ‘s to the word which is closest to the noun:
- The King of Sparta’s wife was called Helen.
- I accidentally took someone else’s phone by mistake.
- The President of USA’s speech was very long.
2. If an object belongs to two people (joint possession), we just use one ‘’s‘ and add it to the possessive closest to the noun:
- Mark is Ann and Tony’s (=their) son. (NOT:
Mark is Ann’s and Tony’s son.)
- Ann and Tony are Sarah and Julia’s parents. (NOT:
Ann and Tony are Sarah’s and Julia’s parents.)
3. BUT: If there is a separate possession of the same noun, we use the possessive form (‘s) for each word:
- Liza’s and Kate’s books are full of useful information. (Liza and Kate have their books)
Possessive ’s – with animals
Like with people, we add an apostrophe + s after nouns denoting animals:
- This is the dog’s food.
- One of the cat’s feet is black.
Using ‘of’ with objects
Do describe possession with things, ideas and places, we usually use ‘of’:
- The windows of that house are dirty. (NOT:
That house’s windows are dirty.)
- What is the name of this village? (NOT:
What is this village’s name?)
- We didn’t see the first part of the movie. (NOT:
We didn’t see this movie’s first part.)
With compound or hyphenated nouns, we use the possessive form (‘s) for the word closest to the noun.
- My mother-in-law’s gift is a diamond ring.
- The English teacher’s method is very effective.
Here’s a good video from Adam Lloyd explaining how to form possessive nouns: