Using Apostrophes to Indicate Possession

The previous article, ‘Using Apostrophes to Form a Contraction’, explained the first use of apostrophes. This article will outline the second use for this mark of punctuation: indicating possession or ownership.

The second use of an apostrophe is to denote ownership or possession. This one becomes a bit trickier, especially where plurals are involved.

After you read the article, you might also wish to watch a video in which Dr Lines explains how to use apostrophes in this way.

The Apostrophe with Plurals

For example, in the sentence, ‘There is the dog’s bed’ an apostrophe has been used to show that the bed belongs to the dog. By using an apostrophe, it becomes clear that a single dog is the subject of this sentence. This is the case with proper nouns too: ‘Ben’s house’ and ‘London’s train network’ both require possessive apostrophes.

But what should be done when there are multiple dogs who all have beds? If you want to indicate that there is more than one dog, the sentence would read, ‘There are the dogs’ beds’.

In words that end in ‘s’ in the plural, the apostrophe belongs after the ‘s’ to show there are multiple dogs. Others example of this rule include ‘I’m going to the girls’ treehouse’. Plurals that don’t end in ‘s’ don’t require this treatment, such as ‘The Board’s decision is final’ or ‘There is the gang’s hideout’.

The Apostrophe with Personal Names

According to the Snooks & Co. Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, (which is the style manual adopted by the Australian government and Australian universities), personal names that end in ‘s’ are treated differently to plurals ending in ‘s’. ‘John’s notepad’ shows correct apostrophe placement for a personal name not ending in ‘s’, while ‘Jess’s notepad’ shows the correct apostrophe placement for a name ending with ‘s’. Instead of just adding the possessive apostrophe, you should add an apostrophe and then an ‘s’.

Singular or Plural?

Where it becomes tricky is in the case of a word ending in ‘y’ and ‘ies’. Should it be ‘baby’s toy’ or ‘babies’ toy’? The former refers to one baby’s toy, whereas the latter refers to a toy for babies or a toy that many babies share.

An easy way to check your accuracy with this is to ask yourself if you’re referring to one or to many? For example, when mentioning ‘the lady’s hat’, you are speaking of one lady with one hat. ‘The lady’s hats’ still refers to one lady, but this time she has many hats. ‘The ladies’ hat’ indicates that many ladies seem to share one hat and finally ‘the ladies’ hats’ signifies that many ladies have many hats.

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