To Whom Does That Belong: The Dos and Don'ts of Showing Possession

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10404

Are your possessive noun skills as good as your friend's and family's? Learn the 6 simple rules of possession in this lesson. Then, practice them until you possess the possession skills! YOU OWN THIS!

categories

Grammar

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

grammar police comic

Can you figure out why the grammar police are after Greg?

Take a moment to read Greg's sign. 

Many people have trouble telling the difference between possessive nouns and plural nouns.  
 
Possessive nouns and pronouns show ownership of another noun. 

For example: 
If you wanted to talk about the new bike that belongs to Herman, you could use a possessive noun: Herman’s bike. 

Plural nouns simply indicate more than one person, place, or thing. Most nouns can be made plural by adding –s, -es, or –ies. There are some exceptions, such as the plural of octopus being octopi, but you should know the general rules. 

For Example: 
If you wanted to talk about the many bikes that Herman has owned during the last year, then use the plural noun bikes because you are referring to more than one. 

Can you help Greg fix his sign? What did he do wrong? 

If you said that he made the word "books" possessive when it needs to be plural, you are absolutely correct!

Let's take a closer look at forming possessive nouns 

Sometimes, it’s as easy as adding 's. 

Possessive nouns commonly include an apostrophe.  
 
For example: 

  • Sean’s excitement grew as the day of the game drew closer.  
  • The kitten’s toy was stuck beneath the sofa. 

Think of the apostrophe as a hook sending the out to grab the next word in the sentence. Without the little hook grabbing onto the "s" to catch the next word, the noun is simply plural. 

Sometimes it gets a little tricky

Personal Pronouns and Possessive Adjectives (mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs, my, your, her, our, their, its) are Naturally Possessive Nouns 

Personal pronouns and possessive adjectives are already possessive nouns. A pronoun is a word that can take the place of a noun in a sentence. They are ordinarily used to keep sentences from sounding too wordy.  Some personal pronouns reflect ownership when used appropriately in a sentence.

Adjectives are words that are used to describe nouns. Telling to whom something belongs is certainly a form of describing. Notice in the examples below that pronouns do not get the apostrophe + s added to them. 

Pronouns as possessives look like this: 

  • We decorated our house for the holidays with colorful lights. 
  • My dress is red. 
  • Your mom is pretty. 

When talking about a singular noun and a possessive pronoun owning something together, you still need to add the apostrophe + s to the singular noun. 

For example: 

  • Maggie’s and my ticket is in the car.  

So, that brings us to the 6 general rules of possessive nouns.

Here are the basic grammar rules for the majority of instances where you, as a writer, will come face-to-face with possessive nouns. 

Rule #1: Making singular nouns possessive 

Add an apostrophe + s to most singular nouns and to plural nouns that do not end in s. 

This is the rule that you’ll use most often, so pay particular attention. English has some words that are plural but do not add an "s." Words like childrensheepwomen, and men are such words. These plural words are treated as if they were singular words when making them possessives. 

 Examples: 

  • Singular nouns: dog’s bone, Joe’s game, Peter’s ball 
  • Plurals not ending in "s": women’s dresses, sheep’s pasture, children’s toys 

Rule #2: Making plural nouns possessive 

Add an apostrophe only to plural nouns that already end in "s". 

You don’t need to add an extra "s" to plural nouns that already end with the letter "s."  Simply tuck the apostrophe onto the end to indicate that the plural noun is now a plural possessive noun. This means that multiple nouns own something. That apostrophe is still there trying to grab on to that next word in the sentence – this time, because there is strength in numbers, it’s being pushed by the "s." 

Examples: 

  • Companies’ workers 
  • Horses’ stalls 
  • Countries’ armies

Rule #3: Making hyphenated nouns and compound nouns plural 

Hyphenated nouns have a dash in between them and act like a single word, like ten-year-old. These and compound nouns can be tricky. Add the apostrophe + s to the end of the compound nouns and to the last word in a hyphenated noun. 

Examples: 

  • My sister-in-law’s cake is the best. 
  • The United States Post Office’s stamps are available in rolls or in packets. 

Rule #4: Showing possession when two nouns are joined together with the conjunction "and" 

You may be writing about two people or two places or things that share possession of an object. If two nouns share ownership, indicate possession only once on the second noun. Add the apostrophe + s to the second noun only. 

Examples: 

  • Jack and Jill’s pail of water had a leak. 
  • Beth and Daryl’s car ran out of gas. 

Rule #5: What happens when two nouns are joined, but they own separate things? 

Most people think this is the trickiest of the possession rules, but it’s pretty simple if you add logic to the situation. Let’s say that you and a friend go to a birthday party together in the same car, but you each have your own coat. Your shared ride arrives at the end of the party, so you’re joined by a ride; but you each need to get your individual coat. 

The host, if he or she uses proper grammar, should say, "Joe’s and Fred’s coats are in the guest room." 

Once more, when two nouns that are somehow linked show ownership, but the ownership is of separate items, each noun gets the apostrophe + s. The example below may help you understand exactly what this means.  

Example: 

  • President Obama’s and Mrs. Obama’s wardrobes are spectacular (Each individual owns his or her own wardrobe, but they are a married couple). 

Rule # 6: Personal Pronouns 

Personal pronouns never use the apostrophe to show ownership. Personal pronouns are words like my, your, her, his, our, their, and its.  As we already learned above, these words show ownership simply by their nature. 

Examples:

  • Your cell phone is ringing. (Personal pronoun possessive) 
  • Rob’s cell phone is ringing. (Singular noun possessive) 

Its and It’s 

Sometimes, students are confused by the apostrophe in the word it’s, and the difference between its and it’s.  Usually, a possessive noun is formed by adding apostrophe + s. However, we learned twice in this lesson that personal pronouns never take the apostrophe + s.  

Its is a possessive personal pronoun used to describe things.  

It’s is a contraction of the words it is. Contractions are two words shortened into one. 

A good self-check is to try to substitute the words it is every time you use it’s. If the sentence makes sense, you’ve used it correctly. If the sentence does not make sense, reach for the possessive case and use its instead. 

There are more rules about making nouns plural (like what do you do when a person’s last name ends in the letter "s.") For now, though, you know everything you need to know to make it to the middle grades!

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