"Possessive Nouns" in English Grammar

Possessive Nouns

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!

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"Possessive Nouns" in English Grammar

What Do We Mean by Possessive Nouns?

'Possessive nouns' are nouns that show possession or belonging. They use a special structure to show ownership.

Why Do We Use Possessive Nouns?

We use 'possessive nouns' to show possessions, ownership, or belongings. Also, we can use a possessive noun to show relationships between people or things. When something is a part of the body of another person or thing we can use possessive nouns as well.

The turtle's tail was smashed under the rock.

In this example, tail is a part of the turtle's body.

She is Hanna's teacher.

Here there is a relationship between 'Hanna' and the 'teacher.'

Making Possessive Nouns Using 'S

To make possessive nouns we can add 's to the last letter of the owner. Check out these examples:

Maria's mother turns to a vampire in this episode.

The king's castle is full of the people.

Using Singular Nouns as Possessive Nouns

Normally, we make a possessive noun by adding 's (an apostrophe + s) to a singular noun. It is added to the possessor. Look at the examples:

My mother's ring

Adam's house

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

When the singular noun ends in the sound 's' we cannot add apostrophe s at the end of the possessive noun. As a result, all you have to do to show possession is to ass only an apostrophe at the end of the noun. For example:

The boss' office seems untidy every time I enter it.

In my idea, physics' equations are hard to solve.

Using Plural Nouns as Possessive Nouns

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

my parents' house

here in this example, the house belongs to more than a person because the apostrophe is used after 's.'

So when it comes to plural nouns we have to know that if an apostrophe is used at the end of a noun that has a separate singular meaning before the letter s, we are supposed to know that this is a possessive apostrophe. Check out the examples for more clarification:

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. keep in mind that there are also plural nouns that the plural form has no difference in comparison with the singular noun. For example, the plural form of the noun 'sheep' stays 'sheep' or the plural form of the noun 'deer' stays 'deer.' In this case, you have to use 's for either the singular noun or the plural noun, then you should get the meaning through the context. For example:

women's clothes

The deer's horns are big and thick. → plural possessive noun

The deer's horn is big and thick. → singular possessive noun

Possessive Nouns or Not?

'Possessive nouns' are usually followed by 's or just apostrophe (') but keep in mind that sometimes the 's is just the contracted form of the noun and its following verb. Another way to decide whether a noun is possessive or not is to take a look at the following word. If it is a noun the noun followed by 's is almost always a possessive noun; if it is followed by a verb or an adverb it is not a possessive noun.

The man's car was parked in front of my house.

In this example, there is a noun after 's so the noun before the 's is considered a possessive noun.

The man's really sick.

Here after the noun 'man' there is an adverb which makes it clear that the 's is not a possessive 's.

Possessive Nouns: Uses

Other than showing possession, another function of possessive nouns is to replace a full noun phrase to avoid repetition.

Is that Adam's house? No, it's John's. (Not "No, it's 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 'of' to show possessions that refer to animals.

The long tail of the cat.

here, the long tail belongs to the cat.

Expressing Relations

The possessive can express a relationship between people.

Albert's mother is cooking us dinner.

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

Sometimes, possessive nouns do not indicate possession; instead, 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.

Places

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!

Using Apostrophe to Show Possession

Hyphenated or Compound Words

With compound nouns (hyphenated or otherwise), add '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

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 do not 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")

Here in this example, It is better not to use 's.

Tip!

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

Manchester's football team

Here, the people of Manchester have organized a team.

But, when we name a team, we do not need to use the 's. Note that for names of the sports teams, 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.

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

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

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

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

The university's cafeteria

The cafeteria is only one part of the whole university.

The dormitory's 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'?

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

Lion's brown fur is curly.

The brown fur of the lion is curly.

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.

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.

As you can see, whenever an 's is followed by an adjective, then the 's is the contraction of 'is.'

Adam's arrived. = Adam has arrived.

As you can see, whenever an 's is followed by a past participle, then the 's is the contraction of 'has.'

Adam's house = the house of Adam

As you can see, whenever an 's is followed by a noun, then the 's is used to show possession.

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. For example:

The class is all yours.

Do not touch it. That's mine.

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 indicate who or what owns it. Check out the examples:

She is his daughter.

I want my book back.

Review

'Possessives' are forms that we use to talk about possessions and relations between things and people.

Possessive determiners Possessive pronouns Possessive nouns
Singular my, your, his, her, its mine, yours, his, hers, its Adam's house
Plural our, your, their ours, yours, theirs the kids' playroom
The contraction of the term is The contraction of the term has Showing possession
Using apostrophe s as a contraction Adam's handsome. Adam's arrived. Adam's house
Non-contracted sentence Adam is handsome. Adam has arrived. the house of Adam

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