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Use of apostrophe example

The Apostrophe in English Possessive

Ирина Пономарева (Irina Ponomareva)

Using the apostrophe to form an English possessive is a tricky and multi-faceted issue. To begin with, let us reiterate once again that while the apostrophe is absolutely necessary to form the possessive of English nouns both in singular and in plural, it doesn’t belong in possessive pronouns and should stay away from them.

With singular nouns the rule is pretty straightforward: if you like to indicate that something belongs to this particular object, you add a “‘s” to it. Examples: “my mother’s house” means the house that belongs to my mother; “your wife’s opinion” is, in general, what your wife things about the topic, etc… Certain complications may arise if the noun itself ends with an “S”; different schools of thoughts suggest different solutions for such occurrences, and we won’t dwell on them in this article; all things considered, you won’t be far wrong if you follow the same general rule for such nouns as for all the others.

It is worth noticing that the nouns that mean certain periods of time also need the possessive to form expressions like “a moment’s notice” or “a week’s break” - people sometimes tend to forget this rule.

Things get a little bit more complicated when we move to plural. An absolute majority of English nouns take an “S” for their plural forms, and for them the possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe after the “S”. Nothing else is needed.


  • cat (singular) - cats (plural) - my cats’ breakfast (possessive, meaning the breakfast is given to all cats in the family)
  • reader (singular) - readers (plural) - our readers’ votes (possessive, meaning votes given by all readers who cared to participate in the poll)
  • month (singular) - months (plural) - two months’ notice (possessive, meaning notice given two months in advance of the event)

But there are exceptions. Words like “children”, “people” and others that have no “S” at the end, even though they are in plural, need both the apostrophe and the “S”, like singular nouns.
Thus we get expressions like “our children’s box of toys” or “the people’s land”, which can at times cause confusions and all sorts of misuse.

The rules outlined above are the easiest and the most often applied in regard to English possessive. In our future articles we are planning to cover more intricate use cases of this evasive punctuation mark.