Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Basics: Singular-Ending-In-S and Plural Possessives

Ready for some more apostrophe fun?  Let's talk about possessives some more.

1.  Singular nouns that end in "s"

It tends to confuse people when a singular noun ends in "s" but needs to show possession.  Often, the temptation is to simply stick a dangling apostrophe at the end of the word.  The CORRECT thing to do, however, is to add the apostrophe-s to the end of the word, just as you would if the word did NOT end in an S:

  • Rufus's backpack   NOT Rufus' backpack
  • the boss's wife  NOT the boss' wife

There are 2 notable exceptions:  It is generally accepted that JESUS' and MOSES' are correct possessive forms, simply because Jesus's and Moses's sound like you've got a speech impediment.

2.  Plural possessives

A plural possessive is a word that shows ownership by more than one person.  Here are the rules:

If the plural noun ends in an "s", simply add the apostrophe at the end.

  • girls' (belonging to more than 1 girl)
  • teachers' (belonging to more than 1 teacher)
  • friends' (belonging to more than 1 friend)
  • foxes' (belonging to more than 1 fox)
If the plural noun has its own, special form, add an apostrophe-s the way you would with a single noun.
  • children's
  • women's
  • firemen's
  • brothers-in-law's
That about covers it.  I highly recommend Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots, and Leaves for an entertaining and definitive source of apostrophe (and comma) wisdom.


  1. Oooh! Timely post: What's the plural possessive for passers-by?

    No matter what I write, it looks wrong.

  2. LOL That's a goofy one, huh? it's passers-by's. It follows the plural-that-doesn't-end-in-s form (like brothers-in-law's).

  3. I loves these possessives posts. Thank you :)