Do you want to learn about possessive nouns? You're in the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know about them and how to use them in your writing.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
As you might already know, a noun is a naming word to designate a person, thing, place, animal, concept, event... the list goes on. You can get lots of different types of nouns: common and proper nouns, countable and non-countable nouns, concrete and abstract nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns. And what do all these nouns have in common? They can be possessive nouns!
When a noun is possessive, it just means it is showing its ownership over the next thing that comes in the sentence.
Here's an example:
The bird's leg is broken.
Here, the noun 'bird' is formed with an apostrophe and the letter 's,' which is how you can tell it's a possessive noun. When you see this format in a sentence, you'll know that the following word belongs to it. So here, that word is 'leg,' another noun. The leg belongs to the bird, and it's broken.
So that's the usual structure: a possessive noun followed by another noun, the thing that belongs to it.
Try not to take the words 'ownership' or 'possession' too literally, though. Sometimes possessives are just used to show the relationship between two things, like in the following example:
Karen's brother is coming to visit.
The brother doesn't actually belong to Karen, but the possessive form shows that they're siblings.
This article is about possessive nouns so I won't dwell on possessive adjectives for too long, but I just wanted to mention them here so that you're aware of what they are. Hopefully, this will avoid some confusion, too.
Here's a list of the possessive adjectives:
Just like a possessive noun, a possessive adjective sits before a noun or pronoun to show ownership of that noun or pronoun.
Here are some examples:
His parents must have dropped him on his head.
Have you seen my glasses?
Yes, they're on your head.
Now you know what possessive nouns are, let's talk about how to form them so you can use them in your own writing.
There are three different ways to do it, depending on whether the word is a:
Here are some examples:
tiger → tiger's
cafe → cafe's
mom → mom's
This structure also applies to proper nouns:
Albert Einstein → Albert Einstein's
Rex → Rex's
New York City → New York City's
It also applies to nouns that already end with the letter 's:'
bus → bus's
octopus → octopus's
boss → boss's
Here are some examples:
cows → cows'
cities → cities'
When pronounced out loud, singular and plural possessive nouns sound the same. But spelling them correctly is crucial so that people will know what you mean.
If you say 'parent's car,' you're talking about the car that belongs to one of your parents; if you say 'parents' car,' you're talking about the car that belongs to both of your parents. See what a difference the placement of an apostrophe can make!
This structure also applies to pluralized versions of proper nouns. But you might ask, when would you pluralize a proper noun? This is often done when discussing a family and using their last name.
Are you going to the Smiths' barbecue party on Saturday?
You can follow a general set of rules when pluralizing a noun. You can find those here. But sometimes, a noun doesn't follow the usual conventions, and its plural form looks different than expected.
Turning these irregular nouns into possessive nouns requires a slightly different approach. You don't just add an apostrophe at the end of the word, as I described in the previous section. Instead, you use the singular noun formula, which is to add an apostrophe and the letter 's.'
Let's take a look at a few examples:
geese → geese's
children → children's
There is one exception, though: if the irregular plural noun already has an 's' at the end, then just use the apostrophe without the 's' formatting:
wolves → wolves'
economies → economies'
zeroes → zeroes'
Pronouns are words that help you avoid repetition throughout your sentences by replacing nouns. And since they replace nouns, it goes without saying that there would be possessive pronouns that could replace possessive nouns, right? Right!
Here's a list of possessive adjectives:
Remember, because the possessive pronoun replaces the possessive noun, it doesn't need an apostrophe to show ownership.
Here's what it looks like when a possessive pronoun is used in a sentence:
That bag is hers.
Notice also how the sentence structure is slightly different. The possessive pronoun isn't placed before the noun it possesses as a possessive noun would be. It usually comes at the end of the sentence, actually. And it's used instead of the possessive noun, so you'll never see both in the same clause. You'll often see them both in separate clauses of the same sentence, however, or in different sentences:
Sally's bag is lost, and that bag is not hers.
Don't confuse possessive nouns with possessive adjectives. They are different parts of speech and therefore have different usage rules.
Compound nouns are words made up of two or more separate parts that come together to form a single unit.
When we talk about compound nouns, we are referring to one of three kinds:
Closed compound words are single words, so to make a closed compound noun possessive, you just follow the usual rules outlined above.
airport → airport's
swimsuit → swimsuit's
shellfish → shellfish's
Open compounds appear as two separate words but are inseparable because they are understood as one word. In this case, to make it possessive, you should apply the rules outlined above to the last word of the compound.
swimming pool → swimming pool's
school bus → school bus's
cream cheese → cream cheese's
With hyphenated compounds, you'll do the same:
mother-in-law → mother-in-law's
editor-in-chief → editor-in-chief's
dry-cleaning → dry-cleaning's
Possessive nouns look suspiciously similar to two other grammatical forms in English grammar: plural form and contracted form. Let's look at each of these individually to discover how you can avoid confusing them.
The plural and possessive forms are pretty easy to tell apart: possessives use an apostrophe, while plurals don't. Possessive and plural nouns will sound the same when you say them out loud, but they'll look different when writing them.
I want to wish mothers all over the world a wonderful day.
My mother's wedding dress was emerald green.
The word 'mother' in these two sentences has an entirely different meaning. The first one is plural, and the second one is possessive.
And, as we explored earlier, a possessive noun can be plural, in which case you'd use the plural 's' and the possessive apostrophe:
Mothers' breastfeeding decisions are entirely upto them.
Contractions are shortened forms of words. A contraction comprises two words joined together by an apostrophe, hence why they can easily be confused with possessives, which also use an apostrophe.
And if you're contracting the verb 'is,' that's even more confusing because you'd then use an apostrophe and the letter 's,' which is precisely like a possessive.
Sophie's joining us for lunch. (contraction for 'Sophie is')
Sophie's daughter is coming too. (possessive)
Then you've got the possessive adjective 'their,' which sounds exactly like the contraction 'they're.' They're homophones, in fact.
But they have entirely different meanings, as you can see from the following sentences:
The kids are expecting their usual pizza night.
They're planning to go on vacation in August.
Contractions and possessives are two completely different parts of grammar, so make sure you get the spelling right. Otherwise, your meaning could be misconstrued.
That concludes this article on possessive nouns. I hope you found it helpful. Let's summarize what we've learned:
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