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This video explains what you need to know to use apostrophes to make singular and plural nouns possessive. You’ll also learn how to avoid mixing up your plurals and possessives.

The Apostrophe

The apostrophe is that little mark that goes up at the top, in between and after letters in certain words. There are a few different situations where you’ll have to use an apostrophe, like when you’re forming a contraction or making a noun possessive.

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If you’re like a lot of people, you may sort of know when to use an apostrophe, and you may sort of know where to put it, but you may also feel like you’re kind of winging it a little. We’ll save contractions and other uses of apostrophes for another lesson, but here, we’ll cover the basics of how to make nouns possessive – and where to put the apostrophe – so that you’ll never have to wing it again.

Singular Possessive Nouns

You may remember that a noun is a word that names a person, place, thing or idea.

Examples of nouns would be ‘teacher’ and ‘horse.’ We use the possessive form of a noun when we want to show ownership by that noun. In other words, we use the possessive form of a noun to show that someone has something, like a brother’s car or a teacher’s briefcase.We create the possessive form of nouns in a few different ways, depending on whether the noun is singular or plural and whether a plural noun ends in s. To make a singular noun possessive, add an apostrophe and an s.So to demonstrate that my friend (which is a singular noun) has a surfboard, I’d need to make the word ‘friend’ possessive by adding an apostrophe and an s to wind up with ‘friend’s surfboard.

‘ The possessive form of the singular noun ‘horse’ would be ‘horse’s,’ as in ‘horse’s tail.’This rule applies even if the singular noun that you want to make possessive already ends with an s. So, you would say that the kindergarten class’s recital is next week. The same goes for singular nouns that end in z or x. You’d say, therefore, that Dr.

Mendez’s lecture was interesting, or that Ms. Delacroix’s car is in the shop. You’ll get an extra gold star when you get this one right, as it’s one that a lot of people get wrong.Note that you may sometimes have to show what’s called joint possession, which occurs when two or more people own something together.

For example, a husband and wife might jointly own a car, or two siblings might share a bedroom. To show joint possession, add an apostrophe and an s to the end of the last noun. So, you would refer to Jack and Juanita’s car or Keisha and Jane’s bedroom.A word of caution with this: if you really mean to communicate that several people own their own separate things, then you would express that a bit differently.

For example, if Tasha and Marc have each finished their own, separate tests, we would refer to Tasha’s and Marc’s tests. The fact that we’ve put an apostrophe and an s at the end of each of the nouns in this phrase signals to the reader that we have separate ownership here, not joint, shared ownership.

Plural Possessive Nouns

The rules for forming possessives with plural nouns are a bit different, but still pretty straightforward. Most, though not all, nouns require an s or es at the end to become plural. Plural means more than one.

So, the plural of ‘guitar’ is ‘guitars,’ and the plural of ‘glass’ is ‘glasses.’To make a plural noun that ends in s possessive, add just an apostrophe – not an apostrophe and an s. We’ll look at two example sentences with the nouns ‘Smiths’ and ‘kids,’ which are plural and which end in s. Making each of these plural nouns possessive requires simply adding an apostrophe at the end. So you would say that the Smiths’ house was remodeled or that the kids’ toys are in the driveway.There are some irregular plural nouns that are plural, but don’t end in s.

Examples include men, women, children and deer. To make a plural noun that does not end in s possessive, add an apostrophe and an s. This works the same way as when you’re making a singular noun possessive. So the possessive of ‘men’ is ‘men’s,’ the possessive of ‘women’ is ‘women’s,’ the possessive of ‘children’ is ‘children’s’ and the possessive of ‘deer’ is ‘deer’s.’An example sentence might state that the children’s homework is done. Errors occur with irregular possessive plurals a lot, and you may have seen some in department store signs.

We use possessives when we talk about the men’s department or the women’s department or the children’s department, and these are the correct ways of forming these possessives. If you ever see a sign marked mens department or womens department, you can know that you’ve spotted an error. Because the words ‘men’ and ‘women’ are already plural, you would never need to add just an s to them.

Rather, you would only add an apostrophe and an s at the end of these words in order to make them possessive – to show that this is the men’s department, for example.

Avoid Confusing Plurals with Possessives

While errors with irregular plurals, like ‘men’ and ‘women,’ happen fairly frequently, writers sometimes mix up regular plurals with possessives, too. So you might see someone make a mistake like: I have two daughter’s. In this sentence, the writer has used the possessive form of the noun ‘daughter,’ but it’s a mistake to do so, as there’s no ownership of anything in the sentence. We’re not talking about the daughter’s piano or the daughter’s cow or anything like that. What we really want in this sentence is the plural of the word ‘daughter,’ because the writer has two of them. So, we simply need to make the word ‘daughter’ plural by adding an s at the end to form ‘daughters.

‘The mistake of making a noun possessive when it really should be plural happens a lot when people are talking about their last name. For example, someone working on their family holiday card might sign the card ‘The Johnson’s.’ But again, there’s no ownership here, so that’s a mistake. Instead, the writer really wants to show that the Johnson family has sent the card, and so he or she should simply make the last name Johnson plural by adding an s at the end. The correct signature would be the plural form ‘The Johnsons.

Lesson Summary

Remember that we create the possessive form of nouns in a few different ways depending on whether the noun is singular or plural and whether a plural noun ends in s. To make a singular noun possessive, add an apostrophe and an s. This rule applies even if the singular noun that you want to make possessive already ends with an s.

The same goes for singular nouns that end in z or x.To show joint possession (that two or more people own something together), add an apostrophe and an s to the end of the last noun. To make a plural noun that ends in s possessive, add just an apostrophe – not an apostrophe and an s. To make a plural noun that does not end in s possessive, add an apostrophe and an s.Before you start adding apostrophes and the letter s to words, stop and ask yourself whether you’re trying to show ownership or you’re trying to show that the noun you’re using is plural.

Getting into the habit of asking that question will help you avoid getting your possessives mixed up with your plurals.

Learning Outcomes

Once you’ve finished the video, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain how to write a singular possessive noun
  • Demonstrate how to write a plural possessive noun
  • Recognize how to not confuse a plural noun with a possessive noun
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