March 4, 2010

9 Tips about Possessive Nouns (Nouns, Part 2 of 3)

Previously, we talked about the tips on how to capitalize nouns. Now, we discuss some tips about possessive nouns.

1. When we want to show that someone owns something, we use possessive nouns.
  • The fingers of Joy = Joy's fingers
  • The hands of Emily = Emily's hands

2. To make a noun possessive, usually add an apostrophe and an s
  • Alma -- Alma's dog
  • dog -- the dog's tail
  • James -- James's mustache

3. Most of the exceptions to this rule are old-fashioned or historical names:

  • Jesus' parables
  • Moses' tablets
  • Achilles' heel

4. If two people own the same thing, use an apostrophe and s for only the second person.
  • Jon and Alma's marriage (they share one marriage)
  • Bea and Gabby's mother (they share one mother)

5. If the two people don't own the same thing, use an apostrophe and s for both people.
  • Bea's and Gabby's toys. (they don't share the same toys)
  • Jon's and Paolo's toes. (they don't share the same toes)

6. If the plural ends in s (for example, girls) just add an apostrophe. If the plural does not end in s (for example, men) add an apostrophe and an s.
  • the boy's sweater -- the boys' sweaters
  • my sister's van -- my sisters' van
  • my boss's key -- my bosses' keys
  • the man's coat -- the men's coats
  • the child's book -- the children's books

7. Inanimate objects usually don't own things, but some possessives are fine.
  • one week's vacation; two weeks' vacation
  • one table's leg; two tables' legs
  • one peso's worth; two pesos' worth

8. What about the example the table's leg? It's fine, but in formal writing such as in Task 2 of the IELTS writing module, it should be the table leg or the leg of the table. The same is true with this example.
  • ALL RIGHT: my car's tire
  • BETTER: my car tire (I own the tire - the car doesn't own it.)
  • ALSO GOOD: the tire on my car

9. Proper nouns (people names) that end in s can be confusing.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Santos have a new house.
  • The Santoses have a new house.
  • Mr Santos's house is new.
  • The Santoses' house is new.

Attribution to Rebecca Elliot for her book Painless Grammar (c) 2006, 1997

Other noun tips:
16 Tips on How to Capitalize Nouns (Nouns, Part 1 of 3)
9 Tips about Possessive Nouns (Nouns, Part 2 of 3)
14 Tips on Making Plural Nouns (Nouns, Part 3 of 3)