Grammar Tuesdays (with Joanna): Possessive or Plural?

Possessive or Plural?

As a learner of English, you have probably noticed that there are a number of different -s endings that can be added to a noun. Sometimes we add just -s (as in friends, neighbors, kittens), and sometimes we add –’s (as in friend’s, neighbor’s, kitten’s). And yet other times we add -s’ (as in friends’, neighbors’, kittens’). 

So how are -s, -’s, and -s’ different? How and when do we use them? What exactly does the apostrophe do? Here’s a mini lesson that might help you to understand this difference. 

Plural Nouns

To form the plural of most nouns, simply add the ending -s or –es to the noun. For example:

friend → friends

They are great friends.

neighbor → neighbors 

I have great neighbors.

Singular Possessive Nouns

To form a possessive of a singular noun, add -’s to the noun. For example:

friend → friend’s

I never miss my best friend’s birthday, and she never misses mine. (We’re talking about just one friend here.)

neighbor → neighbor’s

My neighbor’s dog is very friendly. (And here, we’re talking about just one neighbor.)

Plural Possessive Nouns

To form a possessive of most plural nouns, add -s’ or –es’ to the noun. For example:

            friend → friends’

My friends’ children are very polite. They did a nice job raising them. (We’re talking about more than one friend in this example.)

neighbor → neighbors’

My neighbors’ dog is very friendly. (And in this example, we’re talking about more than one neighbor.)

Remember, in English, one of the functions of the apostrophe is to show possession. The position of the apostrophe depends on whether you’re forming the possessive form of a singular noun (-’s) or the possessive form of a plural noun (-s’). 

Now let’s try this quick exercise. Choose the correct word to complete each sentence.

1. Kat and Bob adopted two beautiful ( kittens / kittens’ / kitten’s ).

2. What’s your ( kittens / kittens’ / kitten’s ) name? She’s very adorable!

3. These ( kittens / kittens’ / kitten’s ) tails are very fluffy.  

4. Did you see the ( kittens / kittens’ / kitten’s ) toy anywhere? I think she misses it.

5. My cat had a litter of five ( kittens / kittens’ / kitten’s ). 

Did you get it all right? Check your answers! Great job!

*ANSWER KEY: 1: kittens; 2. kitten’s; 3. kittens’; 4. kitten’s; 5. kittens

Joanna Rodzen-Hickey

Joanna Rodzen-Hickey has been an ESL teacher and consultant for nearly 20 years. She has taught English at numerous universities and community colleges in New Jersey and currently teaches at the Hackettstown High School in Hackettstown, NJ.

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