What Are Possessive Nouns? - Examples, Definition & Types

Chapter 1 / Lesson 3
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  • 0:07 Apostrophe
  • 0:38 Singular Possessive Nouns
  • 2:39 Plural Possessive Nouns
  • 4:26 Confusing Plurals with…
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

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. 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.

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