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Apostrophes and Possessive Nouns, Part 2: Apostrophe After S

In my previous post on apostrophes and possessive nouns, we looked at possessive nouns that end in apostrophe+s (-’s), as seen in possessive phrases such as “Mary’s car” or “the dog’s tail.” I showed you the specific rules for placing this ending on a possessive noun.

In this post, we’ll look at another apostrophe construction: the use of an apostrophe at the very end of a possessive word without adding an s after the apostrophe. Like -’s, a lone apostrophe can show possession for both plural and singular nouns under certain circumstances.

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Apostrophes after the letter S

  • Rule 1: When a plural noun ends in s, place an apostrophe after the s to show possession.
    • Example 1: Sam and Mary Johnson live in a large house with their two daughters Rachel and Jenna Johnson; the Johnsons’ large house is near here.
      (Here, the singular proper noun “Johnson” has an s added at the end, so that it becomes the plural word “Johnsons” and describes multiple people with the family name Johnson. When referring to the house that belongs to the Johnsons, this plural family name gets a possessive apostrophe added to the s, so that it becomes Johnsons’.)
    • Example 2: Many elephants marched by in the rain, and the elephants’ footprints made deep impressions in the mud.
      (The plural noun “elephants” has an apostrophe added at the very end to show that the footprints were made by the elephants. Because the elephants created the footprints, the elephants’ footprints belong to the animals, in a sense.)
  • Rule 2: When a singular noun ends in s, you can make is possessive by putting the apostrophe after the s, but you don’t have to. It’s also possible to make a singular noun with an s-ending possessive by adding an apostrophe and another s at the end, as seen above in Rule 1 for apostrophes before the letter s.The important thing is to be consistent. When you write, either always place the apostrophe after the s, or always add apostrophe+s.
    • Example 1: ETS’ exams include the TOEFL, the GRE, the Praxis, and the SAT a college entrance exam that’s co-sponsored by both ETS and the College Board.
      (The proper noun ETS ends in “s,” so it’s possible to make this noun plural simply by adding an apostrophe after the S at the end of the word. But again, it’s important to be consistent. Normally, all of my other colleagues at Magoosh TOEFL use the also-acceptable possessive form ETS’s. So for consistency, I would never use ETS’ as a possessive in a blog post—I’m using it here only as an example of this rule.)
    • Example 2: Rabies is a terrible disease; rabies’ symptoms include fever and an inability to swallow water.
      (Here, “rabies” is the name of a disease,
      so it’s an uncountable noun and can’t have a plural form. Nonetheless, because it ends in s, it can be made possessive by putting an apostrophe at the very end of the word.)
    • Special note: If a noun ends in a double s instead of just one s, then it’s much more common to add both an apostrophe and an extra s to the end of the possessive form. So you’d be far more likely to say the dress’s color is blue” than “the dress’ color is blue.”There is such a strong tendency to add apostrophe+s to double-s possessives in English that you can even get away with being a little inconsistent. For example, you can say “Bess’s written advice was mailed to Charles’ house,” using different apostrophe constructions for possessive “Bess” (two-s ending) and possessive “Charles” (only one s at the end).


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6 Responses to Apostrophes and Possessive Nouns, Part 2: Apostrophe After S

  1. David Williams November 6, 2019 at 1:42 am #

    What about pronunciation?
    If you were looking at a coat and you said, “Whose is this?”
    Someone recognising it would say, “It’s James'”?
    I think they would say, “It’s James’s.”

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 7, 2020 at 2:34 pm #

      Hi David,

      Yes, you would probably pronounce this as “James’s”, even though the grammatically correct spelling is “James'”

    • Simmons February 10, 2021 at 5:17 am #

      That’s because what sounds “right” is what we’ve learned and used. It is incorrect. However, many people have used it incorrectly for so long that it’s become “acceptable” and even preferred. It’s irritating beyond belief when a university professor uses and teaches it incorrectly.

  2. Ian March 3, 2020 at 1:17 pm #

    The Quen’s horses’ backside or the Queens horses’ backside?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 4, 2020 at 10:17 am #

      The horse belongs to the Queen, so it would be “the Queen’s horses’ backside”

      • david June 3, 2020 at 2:26 am #

        I don’t think so. Shouldn’t it be “the Queen’s horse’s backside”? One queen owning one horse owning its own backside?

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