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How to Write Clear, Readable, Effective Sentences that Readers Love!
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Cheat Sheet of Possessive Nouns

Cheat Sheet of Possessive NounsDo you frequently ask yourself, "Do I place an apostrophe 's' — or an 's' apostrophe — after this word?" We are going to teach you how to correctly use an apostrophe with the letter "s" at the end of a word.

General Rule. The possessive case of both singular and plural nouns is formed by adding to the noun the apostrophe (') and the letter "s."

Ex.- Singular: 1. Boy's hat. 2. Girl's dress. 3. Child's gloves. Plural: 1. Women's gloves. 2. Men's coats. 3. Children's dresses.

POSSESSIVE OWNERSHIP: Instead of saying, "I borrowed the knife belonging to Jeff," we are likely to say, "I borrowed Jeff's knife." Here we have a new form of the noun Jeff. It is used with the noun knife to denote ownership of the knife, and is called a possessive noun.

Since a possessive noun denotes ownership, it must be used with another noun, the name of the thing owned. The possessive noun is said to modify this other noun. In the expression doctor's car, the possessive noun doctor's modifies the noun car.

When the name of the thing owned is well known, it is often omitted. We say, "I bought these skates at Macy's" and omit the word "store." A word omitted in this way is said to be "understood."

POSSESSIVE SINGULAR: Possessive nouns have a certain form of their own. The possessive singular of a noun is formed by adding to it the apostrophe and s; as, girl's desk; friend's home; George's boat.

Note. In a few common expressions, like for Jesus' sake, for conscience' sake, or my boss' coffee mug, the possessive is formed, for the sake of euphony, by adding merely the apostrophe.

POSSESSIVE PLURAL: When the plural of a noun ends in s, the possessive plural is formed by adding an apostrophe; as, girls' league; ladies' shoes; kids' clothes.

PLURAL NOUN: When the plural of a noun does not end in s, the possessive plural is formed by adding the apostrophe and s; as, women's shoes; oxen's food.

JOINT OWNERSHIP: When two persons are joint owners of one thing, we give the possessive form to the name of the second person only; as, Lewis and Fred's boat.

When two or more nouns are used so that joint possession is indicated, the sign of the possessive is added to the last word only; thus, "A. C. McClurg & Co.'s Book Store;" "Marshall Field & Co.'s Dry Goods Store."

In the case of pronouns, the rule governing joint possession does not apply; thus, instead of "You and Brian's contract," one properly says, "Your and Brian's contract."

Note: We say correctly, "William, Mary, and John's uncle," but not "William's, Mary's, and John's uncle."

SEPARATE OWNERSHIP: When two persons own separate things, the name of each person must have the possessive form; as, I went to Mandel's and Field's, meaning two different stores.

When possession is not common to both nouns, the possessive sign must be used with each noun; thus, we say correctly,"John Keats' and Percy Shelley's poems."

Note the following constructions:
  • "John and Mary's bicycle" (one bicycle owned jointly by John and Mary).
  • "John's and Mary's bicycle" (one bicycle owned by John, and one by Mary).
  • "John and Mary's bicycles" (two or more bicycles owned jointly by John and Mary).
  • ''John's and Mary's bicycles" (two or more bicycles owned by John, and two or more bicycles owned by Mary).
COMPOUND NOUNS: Compound nouns form the possessive by adding the sign of possession to the last word; as, singular, son-in-law's; plural, sons-in-law's.

The possessive noun does not always express actual ownership. Thus, "an hour's walk" means a walk lasting an hour, "Lowell's poems," means the poems written by Lowell; "a child's grief" means the grief felt by a child.

Note: Possession may be denoted by a phrase beginning with the preposition of. This phrase is much used. We say the back of the chair, not the chair's back; the roots of the elm, not the elm's roots. This phrase enables us to avoid some awkward possessives.

DOUBLE POSSESSIVES: In the expression "this book of John's," we have what is called a double possessive, for we have the possessive noun John's, and the phrase introduced by "of." We use the double possessive when the noun denoting the thing owned is first modified by some adjective, as a, the, this, every, both, no.

The following sentences illustrate the above rules:
  1. Mrs. Shaw's home is in Toronto.
  2. The Lyttons' house is for rent.
  3. The Palmers' car is at the door
  4. The Bishops' house has been sold.
  5. The Cummingses' reception was a delightful one.
  6. The Burgesses' house is for rent.
  7. The Knoxes' lot adjoins ours.
  8. I bought the books at A. C. McClurg & Co.'s. bookstore.
  9. I bought the music at Lyon & Healy's.
  10. I have been at my brother Dr. John Blank's sanatorium.
  11. My sister Julia's children are ill.
  12. My brother Frank's house has been sold.
  13. King George's and Queen Victoria's reign were notable ones.
  14. The boy's coat is torn.
  15. The boys' coats are torn.
  16. The baby's rattle is lost.
  17. The babies' rattles are lost.
  18. A two weeks' vacation is all that I ask.
  19. I wish two months' time on this note.
  20. I will give it a three months' trial.
  21. He took a two years' lease of the house.
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