Possessive Nouns | Examples, Definition & Exercises

A possessive noun is the noun form that is used to show ownership. It indicates the person or thing that possesses something and typically immediately precedes another noun indicating what is possessed (e.g., “Annie’s house”).

To form a possessive singular noun, an apostrophe and the letter “s” are added to the basic form of the noun (e.g., “the dog” becomes “the dog’s bone”). For plural nouns, typically only an apostrophe is added (e.g., “the dogs” becomes “the dogs toys”).

Ownership is not always literal in the context of possessive nouns. For example, “Caleb’s dad” does not mean that Caleb owns his dad. In this case, the possessive just indicates a relationship.

Possessive noun examples
Anastasia’s car needs to be repaired.

The bag’s strap is missing.

Bring mom’s phone to me.

Possessive form

Possessive nouns are formed through the addition of an apostrophe and “s” or just an apostrophe. The rules for forming possessives are summarized in the table below, and the individual categories are discussed in more detail after that.

Forms of possessive nouns
Type of noun Rule Examples
Singular nouns; plural nouns that don’t end in “s” Add ’s girl’s, Andy’s, class’s, father-in-law’s, people’s
Plural nouns that end in “s”; singular nouns that look like plural nouns Add boys’, the Johnsons’, ethics’, the United States’
Singular name ending in “s” Add either ’s or Jonas’s or Jonas’; Moses’s or Moses’; Paris’s or Paris’

Singular possessive nouns (and irregular plurals)

Singular nouns are made possessive by adding an apostrophe and an “s” (e.g., “teacher” becomes “the teacher’s lesson”). Singular nouns that end in “s” follow the same rule (e.g., “the press’s access”).

The same rule is followed for plural nouns that do not end in “s,” compound nouns made up of several words, and abbreviations.

Possessives formed with apostrophe “s” examples
I’ve never been to Claire’s house.The class’s behavior was terrible today.

The women’s donations were added to the total.

His sister-in-law’s friend is coming to visit.

The FBI’s report was shocking.

Note
An exception to this rule is some fixed expressions, such as “for goodness’ sake,” where the possessive noun ends in an “s” sound. In these cases, only an apostrophe is added since adding an “s” would add another syllable and change the rhythm of the expression. These sayings don’t typically come up in academic writing.

Plural possessive nouns

Since most plural nouns end in “s,” their possessive form is created by adding only an apostrophe (e.g., “the cats’ toys”).

People often make mistakes when forming the plural possessive because it sounds the same as the singular possessive but is written differently. For example, “the teacher’s students” has a different meaning than “the teachers’ students” even though the two phrases sound exactly the same when spoken aloud.

An apostrophe alone (without the additional “s”) is also used for the plural versions of nouns that end in “s” and have the same singular and plural form (e.g., “politics”).

Possessives formed with an apostrophe only examples
The employees’ frustration continued to grow.

The Smiths’ house is near the Martinezes’ house.

Politics’ effects on families are far-reaching.

Singular names ending in “s”

You may have come across different rules for names that end in “s,” such as “Charles.” Most sources say that these names should follow the typical rule for singular nouns: add an apostrophe and an “s” (e.g., “Charles’s brother”).

However, some sources say that the addition of an “s” should be based on how the word sounds when said out loud. So, for example, the name “Moses” should become Moses’, but “Charles” should become Charles’s.

We recommend always adding the “s” because of the difficulty of determining which names follow which rule and because this is the approach recommended by style guides like APA, MLA, and Chicago.

Nouns in italics or quotation marks

When a noun is in italics (e.g., the title of a book or movie), the possessive apostrophe and “s” should not be italicized.

Possessive nouns in italics examples
Oppenheimer’s message is that progress requires caution.The Los Angeles Times’ editor has resigned.

When a noun is enclosed in quotation marks (e.g., the title of a poem or song), it is better to rephrase the sentence to avoid an apostrophe, as it is too difficult to distinguish the apostrophe from the quotation marks.

Possession and quotation marks examples
  • “The Road Not Taken”’s interpretation
  • “The Road Not Taken’s” interpretation
  • The interpretation of “The Road Not Taken”

Using possessive nouns in sentences

There are two ways possessive nouns are used in sentences:

  • When they are used before another noun, they function the same as possessive determiners (e.g., “their”) and modify the noun that they precede.
  • When they are used independently and do not precede another noun, they function the same as possessive pronouns (e.g., “theirs”). When used this way, they are still connected to a noun that was used earlier or is clear from the context.
Possessive nouns in sentences examples
Tariq’s jacket is on the back of the chair.
I think that jacket is Tariq’s.

Liz’s mistake cost the company a lot of money.
The mistake was Liz’s.

Compound possessive

A compound possessive occurs when ownership is expressed for two or more nouns joined by the conjunction “and.” The compound possessive can be written in two different ways depending on the intended meaning:

  • Both nouns are written in the possessive form if the two entities possess two different things.
  • Only the last noun is written in the possessive form if the different entities possess something collectively.
Compound possessive examples
Carter and Amelia’s letter was very rude. [Carter and Amelia wrote the letter together.]
Carter’s and Amelia’s letters were very rude. [Carter and Amelia wrote separate letters.]

Chen and McCall’s research was conducted in 2021. [The researchers worked together.]
Chen’s and McCall’s research has shown positive results. [The researchers worked separately.]

Possession vs contraction

In addition to showing possession, apostrophes are also used in contractions. For example, “she’s” is a contraction of “she is” or “she has”; the apostrophe represents the letters that have been omitted.

Thus, the possessive forms of singular nouns are the same as the contractions of those nouns with “is” or “has.” For example, “Sam’s” could be the contraction of “Sam is” or “Sam has,” or it could be the possessive form of “Sam.”

The distinction between possession and contraction is usually clear from the context. When the word is followed by another noun, it is most likely a possessive. When it is followed by another part of speech, such as a verb, adverb, or article, it is likely a contraction.

Possession vs contraction examples
Parvati’s dog is tiny.

Parvati’s walking her dog right now. [“Parvati is”]
Parvati’s always wanted a dog. [“Parvati has”]
Parvati’s the best dog owner I know. [“Parvati is”]

Using “of” to show possession

Aside from the apostrophe, possession can also be shown by using a prepositional phrase beginning with “of.”

If the possessor is a concept or an object (rather than a person or animal), it is typically preferable to use “of” rather than a possessive noun. While not technically incorrect, using a possessive noun often sounds unnatural in these cases.

Possessive examples with objects or concepts
  • Courage’s importance
  • The importance of courage
  • Your eyes’ color
  • The color of your eyes
  • The road’s end
  • The end of the road
Note
“Of” is also often used to avoid a series of possessive nouns. For example, “Jude’s girlfriend’s brother” could be rephrased more clearly as “the brother of Jude’s girlfriend.”

Double possessives (“of” + possessive noun)

In some situations, “of” is combined with a possessive noun or pronoun to indicate possession. For example, people often say “a book of Margot’s” rather than “a book of Margot” (which does not sound natural).

This double possessive wording is only used if the possessor is a person or animal and if it is assumed that the possessor has more than one of the item that is possessed. The double possessive is frequently used in situations where the “of” phrase alone might have a meaning other than ownership.

Meaning of the double possessive
Possessive type Example Meaning
“Of” phrasing A sculpture of David A depiction of David in sculpture form
Possessive noun David’s sculpture A particular sculpture that David owns or created; it could be the only one
Double possessive A sculpture of David’s One of several sculptures that David owns or created

It is usually possible (and often preferable) to rephrase sentences to avoid needing the double possessive. However, it is useful to know how to interpret this somewhat unusual construction.

Other alternatives to possessive nouns

Possessive nouns can sometimes be rephrased using prepositions other than “of” (e.g., “by,” “to”) or using relative clauses with words such as “belong” or “own.”

Other alternatives to possessive noun examples
Austen’s best book is Persuasion.
The best book by Austen is Persuasion.

The exam’s review is really difficult.
The review for the exam is really difficult.

I am wearing my grandmother’s necklace.
I am wearing a necklace that belonged to my grandmother.

Frequently asked questions about possessive nouns

When do you use an apostrophe after an s?

An apostrophe is added after an “s” to create the possessive noun form of plural nouns (e.g., “the girls’ shoes”).

An apostrophe is also added after “s” for singular nouns that end in “s” and that have the same singular and plural form (e.g., “ethics’ importance”).

The plural form of other singular nouns that end in “s” is formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s” to the end of the word (e.g., “the princess’s friend”).

Some style guides recommend adding only an apostrophe after certain names ending in “s” (e.g., “Jesus’ followers”). However, adding both an apostrophe and an “s” is recommended by many style guides and reduces inconsistency, so we recommend doing that for all singular names (e.g., “Jesus’s followers,” “Iris’s money”).

What is the possessive form of a name ending in s?

Names ending in “s” can follow the same rules as other singular nouns. The possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s” (e.g., “Rhys’s book”).

Some style guides, however, recommend adding only an apostrophe after certain names ending in “s” depending on whether an extra syllable sounds natural (e.g., “Jesus’ followers”).

To avoid inconsistency, we recommend adding an apostrophe and an “s” to all names (e.g., “Jesus’s followers,” “Mavis’s car”).

What is a compound possessive?

A compound possessive occurs when possession is expressed for two or more nouns that are joined by the conjunction “and.” The compound possessive can be written in two different ways depending on the intended meaning:

  • Both nouns are written in the possessive form if the two entities possess two different things (e.g., “Jayden’s and Tessa’s bicycles”).
  • Only the last noun is written in the possessive form if the different entities possess something collectively (e.g., “Lexi and Sam’s kids”).
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Kayla Anderson Hewitt, MA

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.