English Glossary Index

Possessives :

Showing possession in English is a relatively easy matter (believe it or not). By adding an apostrophe and an
s we can manage to transform most singular nouns into their possessive form:

  • the car's front seat

  • Charles's car

  • Bartkowski's book

  • a hard day's work

  • Some writers will say that the
    -s after Charles' is not necessary and that adding only the apostrophe (Charles' car) will suffice to show possession. Consistency is the key here: if you choose not to add the -s after a noun that already ends in s, do so consistently throughout your text. William Strunk's Elements of Style recommends adding the 's. In fact, oddly enough, it's Rule Number One in Strunk's Elementary Rules of Usage. You will find that some nouns, especially proper nouns, especially when there are other -s and -z sounds involved, turn into clumsy beasts when you add another s: "That's old Mrs. Chambers's estate." In that case, you're better off with "Mrs. Chambers' estate."

    There is another way around this problem of klunky possessives: using the "of phrase" to show possession. For instance, we would probably say the "constitution of Illinois," as opposed to "Illinois' (or Illinois's ??) constitution."

    To answer that question about Illinois, you should know that most words that end in an unpronounced
    s form their possessive by adding an apostrophe + s. So we would write about "Illinois's next governor" and "Arkansas's former governor" and "the Marine Corps's policy." However, many non-English words that end with a silent s or x will form their possessives with only an apostrophe. So we would write "Alexander Dumas' first novel" and "this bordeaux' bouquet." According to the New York Public Library's Guide to Style and Usage, there are "certain expressions that end in s or the s sound that traditionally require an apostrophe only: for appearance' sake, for conscience' sake, for goodness' sake" . Incidentally, the NYPL Guide also suggests that when a word ends in a double s, we're better off writing its possessive with only an apostrophe: the boss' memo, the witness' statement. Many writers insist, however, that we actually hear an es sound attached to the possessive forms of these words, so an apostrophe -s is appropriate: boss's memo, witness's statement. If the look of the three s's in a row doesn't bother you, use that construction.

    When we want the possessive of a pluralized family name, we pluralize first and then simply make the name possessive with the use of an apostrophe. Thus, we might travel in the Smiths' car when we visit the Joneses (members of the Jones family) at the Joneses' home. When the last name ends in a hard
    z sound, we usually don't add an s or the -es and simply add the apostrophe: "the Chambers' new baby."

    Many writers consider it bad form to use apostrophe
    -s possessives with pieces of furniture and buildings or inanimate objects in general. Instead of "the desk's edge" (according to many authorities), we should write "the edge of the desk" and instead of "the hotel's windows" we should write "the windows of the hotel." In fact, we would probably avoid the possessive altogether and use the noun as an attributive: "the hotel windows." This rule (if, in fact, it is one) is no longer universally endorsed. We would not say "the radio of that car" instead of "that car's radio" (or the "car radio") and we would not write "the desire of my heart" instead of "my heart's desire." Writing "the edge of the ski" would probably be an improvement over "the ski's edge," however.

    For expressions of time and measurement, the possessive is shown with an apostrophe

  • one dollar's worth

  • two dollars' worth

  • a hard day's night

  • two years' experience

  • an evening's entertainment

  • two weeks' notice

  • (
    Two weeks' notice is the title of the Hollywood movie nothwithstanding)

    Related Links :

  • Possessives with Gerunds

  • Possessives versus Adjectival Labels

  • Possessives of Plurals

  • Irregular Plurals

  • Holidays Showing Possession

  • Compound Possessives

  • Possessives Constructions

  • Compound Constructions

  • Possessives with Appositive Forms

  • Double Possessives

  • English Glossary Index

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