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How to Use Apostrophes to Show Ownership - Showing Possession Review

Updated on December 9, 2015

Apostrophes show possession!

What does showing possession mean? The same thing as ownership. “The boy’s bat” shows possession, in that the boy owns, or at least has in his possession, a bat. Apostrophes are also used for contractions, or the combination of two words--but that's another lesson.

Example of Incorrect Apostrophe Usage

He's the best of ALL the worlds? Last time, I checked, there is only one world, so the correct usage is "world's."
He's the best of ALL the worlds? Last time, I checked, there is only one world, so the correct usage is "world's." | Source

How to show Singular Possession with -'s

For a singular noun to be possessive, add an apostrophe and then the letter “s.”

Example: The girl’s dress is too short.

We’re afraid of the dog’s bark.

In both cases, a singular noun (girl, dog) possesses or owns something (dress, bark).

Even if a singular noun already ends in -s, you can still add -'s.

Example: Mrs. Jones's car

It is also permissible to just add an apostrophe if the addition of the -'s would make the pronunciation awkward. For example, try to prounounce "Hercules's strength." Instead, you should opt for "Hercules' strength" in this case.

Plural Only--NOT Possessive!

Snow toy's what? What do they own? Snow toys are plural only--not possessive.
Snow toy's what? What do they own? Snow toys are plural only--not possessive. | Source

How to show Plural Possession with -s'

Now, let’s use those same sentences to show ownership when there is more than one “owner.”

The girls’ dresses are too short.

We’re afraid of the dogs’ barks.

In both sentences, the subjects are plural. There is more than one girl in the first sentence, so just make the noun plural first. Since that group of girls own something (dresses), now add an apostrophe to the end. The same is true with the second sentence, as there is more than one dog making all that noise.

Showing Possession wth Plural Nouns that Don't End in -s

How do you show possession if the plural of the noun does not end in -s? In this case, you will add the -‘s, as any other way wouldn’t make sense. Consider the example:

Women is already plural. We would not ever say “womens,” as in “The womens are at the church.” No, we would say, “The women are at the church.” To show possession, then, we would add -‘s to say, “The women’s husbands stayed at home.”

Exceptions: Showing Possession without Apostrophes

Possessive pronouns are the exception, as they do not require an apostrophe to show possession. By their name, we know that they are already possessive. Review the following phrases with possessive pronouns:

The dog buried its bone. ("It's" is only used as a contraction for "it is.")

The girl has her purse. It is hers.

Have you seen his truck?

The pizza is ours.

Did you think it was yours?

They thought it was theirs.

I've reviewed the basics of how to use apostrophes to show possession. Now, let's take a quiz!

Grammar Geek 2011

Quiz: Apostrophes and Possession

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