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Showing Possession with Nouns

Showing possession with nouns demonstrates ownership of an object or idea. Possession can also demonstrate a close relationship between two ideas or concepts. Simply add ’s to a noun for possession.

  • John’s car, Susan’s cat, Caroline’s pencil

The exception to this rule is when plural nouns end in –s or –z. In these cases, the apostrophe can be used alone.

  • Paris’s lights, OR Paris’ lights
  • Jesus’s teachings, OR Jesus’ teachings
  • Reeves’s dog, OR Reeves’ dog
  • Charles’s book, OR Charles’ book

Unusual Constructions

If a possessive noun sounds awkward, it might be necessary to change the word order or reword the phrase for better effect. In such an instance, an of construction can be used for clarity.

AwkwardBetter
The page’s topThe top of the page
Keats’s poemsThe poems of Keats
Emma’s charactersThe characters of Austen’s Emma

Joint Ownership

When showing possession for compound constructions, the placement of the apostrophe-s (’s) indicates who owns or possesses an object. If the ’s is in the wrong place, the meaning can change accordingly.

  • The Sergeant Major’s desk is covered in Army decorations. (In this case, the singular Sergeant Major has an ornate desk.)
  • The Sergeants Major’s desk is covered in Army decorations. (In this case, the plural Sergeants Major share an ornate desk.)
  • A word of caution: You can become entangled in possession and plural possession if both are used simultaneously. The plural of Sergeant Major should either be Sergeants Major (probably most accurate) or Sergeant Majors. The plural possessive would then be either Sergeants Major’s (probably most accurate) or Sergeants’s Major (although this seems really awkward). The awkwardness of these possessive forms is a good reason to recast the sentence using the construction of the Sergeants Major. Regardless of your use, make sure you are consistent.

The following examples show possession by joint ownership.

  • My mother and father’s house
  • My brother and sister’s treehouse

To show ownership of two or more objects by two or more different entities, designate ownership by each.

  • Chuck’s and Terry’s gym bags
  • My mother’s and father’s houses
  • Tom’s and Sue’s tennis rackets
  • Sue’s, Vince’s, and Cal’s golf clubs

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