The possessive form is the way we indicate ownership. By adding either an ‘s (apostrophe + “s”) or an apostrophe on its own, we indicate that something is owned by a person, animal, place, or organisation.
The rule above is simple enough, but as usual with the English language, the devil is in the detail. Although it is easy to form a possessive with singular nouns and regular plural nouns, the moment you throw in words ending in s, things get more confusing.
There are two main reasons for such confusion. The first is that the hissing (sibilant) sound of more than one s makes people question their grammar choices when it comes to apostrophes. The second is that when it comes to possessives of words ending in s , there is no single right answer—different stylebooks offer different guidelines!
Thankfully, as this article will show, the fixed rules on the possessive form of words ending in s are easy to remember and the rest of the time it’s just a matter of preference and consistency.
The ‘s is added to singular nouns (people, places, animals, organisations, countries, etc.) to show possession. Examples include:
|The child’s teddy bear||Andy’s bike|
|England’s national team||London’s cinemas|
|The flower’s petals||Nina’s sweets|
|The lawyer’s generosity||Roger’s dog|
As can be seen from these examples, the possessive indicates not just ownership, but also relationships, characteristics, and other indicators of belonging. For example, the possessive form can indicate where someone works or studies:
- Adam’s school
- Jenny’s office
It can also show ownership of mood or behavior:
Petra’s patience was wearing thin in the face of John’s buffoonery.
And it occurs in less obvious fixed phrases:
- At death’s door
- An honest day’s pay
On the other hand, the ‘s is not used to show possession when it comes to things such as objects, furniture, or houses. So, rather than talking about the door’s handle, we say the door handle. Similarly:
- Hotel lobby, not hotel’s lobby
- Dining room table, not dining room’s table
How to Make Words Ending in “S” Possessive
Okay, so far, so simple, but what about if the singular noun ends in s already? As we have just seen, a singular noun adds an ‘s to show possession. But it’s when that singular noun already has an s at the end that people get confused. The rule, however, is still to use ‘s to show possession:
- The bus’s windows
- The abacus’s red beads
- The boss’s affairs
How Is the Possessive Form of a Name Ending in “S” Written?
Things get a little more interesting with names that end in an s. There are two ways of doing things, depending on your own preference or which stylebook you are using. The most common approach is to still use the ‘s as you can see below:
- Jess’s cricket bat
- Chris’s lunchbox
- James’s favorite pencil
- Yeats’s poems about Ireland
This is what most style guides suggest, including The New York Times, the BBC, MLA, and The Economist. However, there are several institutions that disagree, including the Associated Press, and they opt for an apostrophe alone. The above examples would therefore be written like this:
- Jess’ cricket bat
- Chris’ lunchbox
- James’ favorite pencil
- Yeats’ poems about Ireland
Is It Chris’ or Chris’s?
Which way should you go? Rather than follow a specific stylebook, it is perhaps best to simply allow form to follow function. Ask yourself how it sounds when you are speaking? If you would say Chris -iz cat,—which most people would—then it makes sense to write Chris’s cat.
Is It James’ or James’s?
Again, writing as if you were speaking the sentence, the extra ‘s should probably be added. It is preferable to write James’s favorite pencil because you would say James iz pencil. But remember, neither option is technically wrong.
When Do You Not Use Apostrophe “S” After Names?
Equally, there will be cases where it makes no sense to use the ‘s because you wouldn’t say it like that when speaking. For example, Tim Robbins’ driveway is preferable to Tim Robbins’s driveway because saying Tim Robbins -iz driveway is too much of a mouthful. Similarly:
- Kenny Rogers’ new album
- Socrates’ trial
- Archimedes’ principle
Classical Names and the Possessive
This brings us nicely to another commonly accepted guideline—that biblical or classical names ending in an s all drop the ‘s. Thus:
- Jesus’ disciples
- Moses’ sermons
- Achilles’ heel
What About Proper Nouns Already in the Possessive?
Occasionally you will come across a proper noun that already takes the possessive form. For simplicity this should be left as is:
- McDonald’s new vegan menu
- Sainsbury’s plastic bag policy
When There Are Two Possessive Nouns in a Sentence, Is Apostrophe “S” Added to Both?
With joint possession and a list of names, we add the ‘s to the last name. For example:
President Obama and President Trump’s book on bridging the divide in America.
In this (unlikely) instance the two presidents would have co-authored a book. Similarly, if two people share possession of an item or person:
- Jack and Jill’s house
- Peter and Paul’s father
However, if Jack and Jill had separate houses, it would be written as:
Many of these houses, including Jack’s and Jill’s, were built in the 1900s.
Singular Nouns in Plural Form
Lastly, for the few singular nouns that are already plural words, the rule is to simply add an apostrophe. Thus:
- Abbey Road is the Beatles’ finest album.
- La Fourchette is Beverly Hills’ best restaurant.
There are a lot of rules to take in here but most of the time it’s just a case of saying the word in your head before writing it.
If you start doubting your own head (which we all do from time to time) run your work through a grammar checker such as the ProWritingAid Grammar Report. This will flag any inaccuracies and suggest the best option. With ProWritingAid you can even set your own house style to maintain consistency when forming those trickier possessives.
Thankfully, in comparison with the complicated variations of singular noun possessives, plural noun possessives are quite straightforward.
Regular Plural Noun Possessives Do Not Use Apostrophe “S”
The basic rule is that when it comes to regular plural nouns, we do not use ‘s. A plural noun that already ends in an s takes only an apostrophe:
- My parents’ vinyl collection
- The Daleks’ inability to navigate stairs
- The boys’ treehouse
- The players’ changing rooms
Keeping Up with the Joneses
This rule also applies to names that are plural:
- The Joneses’ front garden looks like a tip.
- The Jeffersons’ summer parties are unmissable.
Irregular Plural Nouns Use Apostrophe “S”
However, for irregular plural nouns—those that don’t end in s—we use the ordinary possessive form:
- Children’s books
- The media’s complicity
- Women’s rights
In addition to the exceptions for singular and plural nouns mentioned above, there are a few other situations that merit attention.
Possessive Apostrophes in Place Names
Once again, we come to differing guidelines, this time dependent on location. In the US, most place names don’t bother with a possessive apostrophe regardless of whether they end in s or not:
- Kings Island
- Pikes Peak
- Whites Creek