Possessive Nouns in English Grammar

Possessive Nouns in English Grammar

Possessive structures have many functions like showing ownership or belonging. With the help of apostrophe 's', we can make a possessive noun. Let's start!

Possessive Nouns in English Grammar

Possessive Nouns


Possessives are forms that we use to talk about possessions and relationships between things and people. They take different forms depending on how they are used.

Possessive Determiners

The possessive determiner (or adjectives) are my, your, his, her, its, our, their, and whose. A possessive determiner sits before a noun (or a pronoun) to show who or what owns it.

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns help us show possession or ownership in a sentence. We can use a possessive pronoun instead of a full noun phrase to avoid repeating words.

Possessive Nouns: Structure

A possessive noun shows ownership; it shows possession of something. It can also show a relationship between two things, or tell us that something belongs to someone or something.

Singular Nouns

Normally, we make a possessive noun by adding 's (an apostrophe +s) to a singular noun. it is added to the possessor.

Adam's house

Instead of saying 'the house of Adam', in English we use 's to show that the house belongs to Adam.

Plural Nouns

With plural nouns ending in -s, we should only add ' (an apostrophe) to the noun.

my parents' house

The house belongs to more than a person.

Look at these examples:

the kids' playroom

This example refers to a playroom owned by two or more kids.

the kid's playroom

This example refers to a playroom owned by one kid.

But with irregular plural nouns we use 's.

women's clothes

Possessive Nouns: Uses

Other than showing possession, another function of possessive nouns is that we can use it instead of a full noun phrase to avoid repeating words.

Is that Adam's house ? No , it's John's . (NOT No , it's John's house . )

John's is the replacement of John's house.

's with Names of Animals

We can use 's with animals, too.

a bird's nest

the lion's roar

We can also use the term 'of' to show animal possessions.

The long tail of the cat .

The long tail belongs to the cat.

The possessive can express a relationship between people.

Albert's mother is cooking us dinner .

's shows the relationship between the mother and the son.

Sometimes possessive nouns refer to places. It is used to refer to shops, restaurants, churches and colleges, using the name or job title of the owner. Look at the examples:

I'm going to the doctor's at 5 : 00 this evening .

(Doctor's) means the doctor's work place, here.

Let's eat at The Alessandro's tonight !

'S refers to a place.

Sometimes, possessive nouns don't talk about possession, rather they show a kind of relationship between nouns. Look at these examples:

The Children's representative

This is a representative for children's affairs. The representative does not belong to the children.

The possessive can talk about abstract things as well.

Hyphenated or Compound Words

With compound nouns (hyphenated or otherwise), add the 's to the last word.

Her mother-in-law's dress

Mother-in-law is a collective noun. It gets 's at the end.

Attorney General's duty

The same rule is applied here.

Joined Possessive Nouns

If two or more nouns have the possession of something or somebody, we only add 's to the last word.

Jane and Paul's children

there is a relationship between children and both of them, but we only add 's to the last one which is Paul.

People owning Different Things

If the 's comes after the last noun in a noun phrase comprised of two or more nouns joined with the, it means that the thing is possessed by all of the possessors. But, if the 's comes after each one of the possessors, it means that each person owns a different thing.

Ashley and Adam's room

This sentence means that Ashley and Adam share one room.

Ashley's and Adam's rooms

This sentence means Ashley and Adam each have their separate rooms.

's with Inanimate Nouns

Inanimate nouns are those that don't refer to living things. They're not names of people or animals. Let's see when it's correct to use 's with an inanimate noun:

  • We use 's when the noun refers to a group of people and collective activity.

Manchester's love of sport

We don't mean Manchester, the city. We mean Manchester as a sport community, a group of sport's fan.

When we refer to the city, itself (and not the people in that city) it is recommended that we do not use 's.

The weather in Manchester (NOT Manchester's weather)

We had better not to use 's.


Remember, this use of 'Manchester's' refers to the group of people in the city.

Manchester's football team

The people of Manchester have organized a team.

But, when we name a team, we don't need to use the 's. Note that for names of sports team, simply use the name of the city without the 's.

Manchester United

Here, the Manchester is a location or hometown, not the people of Manchester.

  • We use 's when the noun refers to a time and we need to express what's associated with that period of time.

Today's lesson is about possessive nouns .

We often use a possessive form with time adverbs like, tomorrow, yesterday, today, next week, this year, etc.

This year's best movies are listed below .

This year is a time adverb.

  • We use 's with time words to help us measure an amount.

He gave me a three week's notice before he quitted his job .

We can make a time word possessive to show an amount.

Landlords often ask the tenants to pay two month's rent .

This is indicating the length of time.

  • We use 's to refer to parts of a whole.

The university's cafeterias

The cafeteria is only one part of the whole university.

The dormitory's 150 rooms

Dormitory has more than 150 rooms.

's or of?

You might come across this question: 'When should we say 'the book's cover' and when should we say 'the cover of the book'?

Nowadays we can use both 's and 'of' for demonstrating relations, relationships and possessions; for animals.

Lion's brown fur is curly .

Fur belongs to the lion.

The brown fur of lion is curly .

The fur belongs to the lion.

To indicate the relation between two things. It is common to use the term ''of'' and not 's.

The legs of the chair are made of wood .

Legs are not alive things and chair is not alive as well, so it is better not to use 's.

In the following examples these objects exist in a specific place.

the car speakers (NOT the car's speakers)

the kitchen sink (NOT the kitchen's sink)

What Can 'S (Apostrophe S) Mean?

When you come across 's in a sentence, do not assume it always shows possession. Look at the three examples below:

Adam's handsome . = Adam is handsome .

When an 's is followed by an adjective, then the 's is the contraction of 'is'.

Adam's arrived . = Adam has arrived .

When an 's is followed by a past participle, then the 's is the contraction of 'has'.

Adam's house = the house of Adam

When an 's is followed by a noun, then the 's is used to show possession.

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