English Grammar Review
Nouns and Pronouns

Forming Possessives

When someone owns something, that relationship is shown by the possessive case. The possessive case is formed by adding an apostrophe and often following that with an s.

Mr. Darmawan's company

The possessive case is simple

Rule 1: Add an apostrophe and an s to form the possessive of a noun that does not end in s, whether that noun is singular or plural.

the woman's selection

the women's selections

Rule 2: Add an apostrophe and an s to form the possessive of most singular nouns ending in s.

his boss's approval

the witness's reply

Rule 3: Add an apostrophe but no s to form the possessive of plural nouns ending in s.

the employees' washroom

the buyers' ratings

The possessive case is complicated

Seriously, it gets really complicated. For example, the correct possessive form can depend on how difficult it is to pronounce the word with an extra s. And that is subjective.

Thomas's engine [This is considered easy to pronounce.]

Socrates' toga [Socrates's toga is considered difficult to pronounce.]

The possessive case is often not possession

The use of an apostrophe followed by an s does not always mean possession or ownership. The "possessive form" is used as an abbreviation for a variety of associations:

her boss's office : the office of her boss

AKR's product line : the product line of AKR

the customer's anger : the anger of the customer

Natalena's ambition : the ambition of Natalena

the officer's duty : the duty of the officer

Bank Mandiri's competitors : the competitors of Bank Mandiri

yesterday's news : the news from yesterday

Hasan's nickname : the nickname used by Hasan

an hour's delay : a delay lasting one hour

Mr. Toer's novels : the novels written by Mr. Toer

Helpful Techniques

For help in correctly forming the possessive of plural nouns, try the Two-Step Technique.

Two-Step Technique: Starting with the singular, write the plain plural first, then write the plural possessive.

singular → plural → plural possessive

girl → girls → girls'

man → men → men's

boss → bosses → bosses'

child → children → children's

vice president → vice presidents → vice presidents'

To help correctly form the possessive of a noun when the thing possessed is implied but not stated, try the Pack-a-Bracket Technique.

Pack-a-Bracket Technique: Temporarily add the hidden word, in brackets.

Mahyadi is getting a masters/master's in public policy. (which?)

Mahyadi is getting a master's [degree] in public policy.

This is especially helpful for keeping track of possessives that should be in parallel format.

Next year's sales figures are expected to be better than this year. (not as parallel as it should be for clarity)

Next year's sales figures are expected to be better than this year's [sales figures].

To help identify when a phrase is descriptive (no apostrophe) instead of possessive, use the Question O/D Technique.

Question O/D Technique: Ask two questions: X Owns the Y? or X Describes the Y?

earnings record

→ earnings Owns the record?

→ earnings Describes the record?

Answer: Describes. So, this is descriptive (an adjective) and does not use an apostrophe.

Similarly: savings account, news release, sales tax

Lesson: Forming Possessives
Module: Nouns and Pronouns
Course: English Grammar Review