You know possessive apostrophes when you see them, but no matter how simple or common they are, knowing how to use apostrophes correctly can still be tricky. For example, when do you put the apostrophe after s, and when do you put the apostrophe before it? Below, we explain everything you need to know about possessive apostrophes so you can use them with confidence.
What are possessive apostrophes?
Possessive apostrophes are apostrophes (’) used with the letters at the end of a noun to show ownership over or a close connection with another noun. For example, if you were talking about the tail of your cat, you can add a possessive apostrophe and an s as punctuation to show which noun is the owner.
My cat’s tail
Apostrophes are used for more than just the possessive case of nouns; they’re also used for contractions like can’t. Because apostrophes have different uses and specific grammar rules, they account for many common grammar mistakes—so be sure to review the rules on how to use apostrophes in the next section to avoid errors.
How to use apostrophes
Possessive apostrophes come at the end of nouns that show ownership (possession) or a close relationship like among family members or body parts. The “owner” noun always precedes the noun it relates to, but any adjective that describes the second noun goes in between the two nouns.
Ava’s new, stylish, and expensive haircut
If adjectives describe the “owner” noun, they come before it.
the trendsetting Ava’s new haircut
Although that’s fairly simple, the other rules for how to use apostrophes are more complicated. Different types of nouns—singular, plural, compound, pronouns, etc.—each have their own rules.
Possessive apostrophes with singular nouns
The most common use of possessive apostrophes is with singular nouns. In this case, you simply add an apostrophe followed by the letters.
This applies to all types of singular nouns, including those that end in s or z.
However, some style formats, such as the Associated Press, omit the extras in words that end in s or z, using only an apostrophe. If you’re in doubt, be sure to check the style guide your class or company uses.
Possessive apostrophes with plural nouns
Regular plural nouns already add an s to show they’re plural. To make these possessive, you just add an apostrophe after the s at the end of the word; there’s no need to add another s.
Do: students’ demands
Do: players’ lockers
Don’t: students’s demands
Don’t: players’s lockers
Keep in mind that some nouns have an irregular plural form, like children, which is the irregular plural form of child. With irregular plurals, add both an apostrophe and s, as you do with singular nouns.
Possessive apostrophes with last names
Proper nouns, including last names, follow the same rules as other nouns. If they’re singular, add an apostrophe ands to the end, even if the name ends with s or z.
Anwuli Okoro’s bathing suit
If they’re plural, treat them as you would other plural nouns and just add an apostrophe after thes.
Suarezes’ family reunion
Possessive apostrophes with two or more nouns
If you have a group of words, where do you add the possessive apostrophe? It depends on whether it’s joint possession or individual possession.
If two or more nouns all own the same thing (joint possession), add a possessive apostrophe only to the last noun in the group. In this case, the noun they own is singular.
father and daughter’s dance
Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s uncle Donald
If two or more nouns each own separate things of the same kind (individual possession), add possessive apostrophes after each noun. Moreover, the noun they own should always be plural.
prosecutor’s and defendant’s speeches
the hospital’s and clinic’s doctors
Possessive apostrophes with hyphenated words and compound nouns
Hyphenated words and other compound nouns are multiple words working together as one. English grammar considers them a single noun, so you add a possessive apostrophe and an s only to the final word in the group.
ice cream’s cherry
Possessive apostrophes with noun phrases
A noun phrase is a group of words acting together as a single noun, usually with adjectives and prepositional phrases. Just like with compound nouns, add an apostrophe and s only to the final word.
the freckled kid in the back’s T-shirt
However, this can get confusing if the noun phrase is too long. It’s often better to reword the sentence, showing possession with the preposition of rather than with a possessive apostrophe.
the T-shirt of the freckled kid in the back
Possessive apostrophes with indefinite pronouns
Indefinite pronouns are a little more difficult because some of them use possessive apostrophes and some don’t. Below are lists showing which do and which don’t.
Indefinite pronouns that use possessive apostrophes
- no one’s
Indefinite pronouns that do not use possessive apostrophes
When not to use possessive apostrophes
Buildings and furniture
Usually when talking about buildings, furniture, and sometimes inanimate objects, you don’t need possessive apostrophes at all. In these situations, the noun of ownership is more like an adjective than a noun, so you don’t need to add any extra punctuation or ans.
the hotel pool
the office basement
the table legs
In most cases adding a possessive apostrophe to a year is a mistake. An exception is if you’re indicating that the year or years are possessive.
- She lived in Algeria in the early 1700s.
- The 1930s saw a downturn in the economy.
- The late 90’s embrace of SUVs changed the car market.
- It was 2022’s biggest news story.
Pronouns may take the place of nouns, but they have their own rules when it comes to possessives.
Basically, there are two ways pronouns show possession. First, possessive pronouns like mine or yours act as standalone nouns, often replacing nouns that were already mentioned.
The neighbor’s grass is greener than mine.
That partner of yours is a bad influence.
Second, you can use possessive adjectives like my or your. Possessive adjectives come before the noun they relate to, just like other adjectives.
My dream is to stay in bed all day.
I’m terrified of their parrot.
The important thing to remember is don’t use possessive apostrophes with any pronouns, either possessive pronouns or possessive adjectives.
If you see an apostrophe with a pronoun, it must be part of a contraction.
its—possessive adjective of it
it’s—contraction for “it is”
Possessive apostrophe FAQs
What are possessive apostrophes?
Possessive apostrophes are apostrophes (’) used with the letters at the end of a noun to show ownership over or a close connection with another noun. For example, if you were talking about the tail of your cat, you could say cat’s tail.
How do you use possessive apostrophes?
For singular nouns and irregular plural nouns, add an apostrophe and the letters after the word. Regular plural nouns already end ins, so simply add an apostrophe afters. Those are the basics, but there are more complicated grammar rules for other types of nouns.
When should you not use a possessive apostrophe?
Do not use possessive apostrophes with pronouns, which have their own unique possessive forms. Likewise, don’t use possessive apostrophes with buildings or furniture. In these cases, the noun of ownership functions more as an adjective than as a noun, such as in hotel pool or chair leg.