Possessives and Apostrophes. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.
Possessives and Apostrophe study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.
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How to use advanced possessives in English
Possessives are used to show ownership, or to show that something belongs to a group. Most of the time it is easy to create a possessive in English. You simply add an apostrophe and an 's' to a singular noun. For example, "Look at John's new car," or "I am going to Mary's house."
Here’s a few more examples:
- These are Mike's shoes.
- I did a year's worth of work in just six months.
- Have you joined the soccer team's supporters club?
- I would like two dollars' worth of popcorn.
Your English lesson about advanced possessives and apostrophes
Welcome to the lesson on possessives! In this lesson, we will cover many of the uses of the possessives in English.
Many students have been surprised that we didn’t include possessives in the Everday series of lessons. The reason is that we have included some advanced possessive topics, as you’ll see.
As advanced level students will know, showing possession in English is relatively easy. By adding an apostrophe and an ‘s’ we can manage to transform most singular nouns into their possessive form:
Look at John’s new car
I am going to Mary’s house
A year’s worth of work
Have you joined the soccer team’s supporters club?
Have you seen Charles’ cat anywhere?
(Note: If a word ends with ‘s’, you don’t need to add another ‘s’)
When we want the possessive of a pluralized family name, we pluralize first and then simply make the name possessive with the use of an apostrophe. For example:
We met the Smiths at the Joneses' New Year’s party.
Although it is not a rule, some people think it is best to not use apostrophe -s possessives with objects like furniture or clothing. Instead of "the shirt's collar", you can use "the collar of the shirt". Instead of "the house's roof" we can write "the roof of the house."
For expressions of time and measurement, the possessive is shown with an apostrophe -s:
one hour’s worth
a day's work
two years' experience
an evening's entertainment
two weeks' notice
I would like one dollar’s worth of popcorn
I would like two dollars’ worth of popcorn
(Remember, if a word ends with ‘s’ - like the plural ‘dollars’ - then you do not ad a second ‘s’ because it would look and sound odd.)
Now let’s move on to some more advanced possessive topics.
Adjective label/Attributive noun
Don't confuse an adjectival label (sometimes called an "attributive noun") ending in s with the need for a possessive. Sometimes it's not easy to tell which is which. Do you attend a writers' conference or a writers conference? If it's a group of writers attending a conference, you want the plural ending, writers. If the conference actually belongs to the writers, then you'd want the possessive form, writers'.
If you can insert another modifier between the -s word and whatever it modifies, you're probably dealing with a possessive. Additional modifiers will also help determine which form to use. Look at the following example.
Long time Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter retired in 2014. (plural as modifier)
The Yankees’ new shortstop is Didi Gregorius. (possessive as modifier]
Possessives of Plural Nouns & Irregular Plural Nouns
Most plural nouns already end in s. To create their possessive, simply add an apostrophe after the s:
Cats’ tongues have a very rough texture.
The lions' usual source of water has dried up.
The witches' brooms could fly.
With nouns whose plurals are irregular, you will need to add an apostrophe followed by an s to create the possessive form.
We walked into a women's clothing store.
Children's TV programming is not very educational.
When you are showing possession with compounded nouns, the apostrophe placement depends on whether the nouns are acting separately or together. Look at the following example.
Dan’s and Mary’s science projects were very interesting.
This means that each of them separately did an interesting project.
Dan and Mary’s science project was very interesting.
This construction tells us that Dan and Mary did an interesting project together. The possessive (indicated by 's) belongs to the entire phrase, not just to Mary.
Here’s another example:
Dan and Mary’s opinions about the science teacher were the same.
This sentence tells us that the two students had one common opinion of their teacher.
Dan's and Mary's opinions about the teacher were different.
We show separate ownership by writing both of the names in the possessive form.
When one of the possessors in a compound possessive is a personal pronoun, we have to put both in the possessive form.
Jack and her house had a fire last night.
Jack's and her house had a fire last night.
Or, we can use both names.
Jack and Jill’s house had a fire last night.
Notice how we remove the apostrophe s from “Jack” when we use this construction.
Possessives & Compound Constructions
This is different from the problem when creating possessives with compound constructions such as daughter-in-law or friend of mine.
Generally, the apostrophe -s is simply added to the end of the compound structure: my daughter-in-law's car, a friend of mine's car.
If you don’t like how this sounds, you can use the "of" construction to avoid the apostrophe. For example, “The car of a friend of mine”. This is especially useful in pluralized compound structures: the daughters-in-law's car sounds quite strange, but it's correct. It sounds much better if we say, “The car of the daughters-in-law.”
Possessives with Appositive Forms
When a possessive noun is followed by an appositive, that’s a word or phrase that renames or explains that noun, the apostrophe +s is added to the appositive, not to the noun. When this happens, we drop the comma that would normally follow the appositive phrase.
We need to get Mrs. Smith, the second grade teacher's signature.
You can also use the “of” form. For example, “We need to get the signature of Mrs. Smith, the second grade teacher.”
Sometimes we use the “of” form and the apostrophe +s in the same sentence. Look at this example.
This is a picture of my father.
In other words, this is a picture where we can see my father’s face.
This is my father’s picture.
In this sentence it isn’t clear whether or not this is a picture in which my father appears, or if this is a picture that my father owns.
however in this sentence:
This is a picture of my father’s.
Using the double possessive, we can understand clearly that this is a picture that belongs to my father.
It’s story time
Now that we’ve learned a lot about possessives, let’s see how they are used in a short story. As you read the following story, pay attention to how the possessives are used.
Kobe really liked his new school. First, Kobe’s teachers were strict, but they were very knowledgeable and smart. The skill level of the teachers at his old school was much lower. A few of his teachers had written books. He felt happy when he read his teachers’ books.
His school’s campus was also really special. The buildings’ designs were very attractive. The athletic department’s facilities were outstanding, and behind the gym was a beautiful tree. The tree’s branches bent to the ground like an umbrella. The tree was Kobe’s favorite place on campus. Kobe could sneak in between the tree’s branches, and sit by the trunk of the tree where no one could see him.
The school’s students were all very smart and talented. The students’ parents were very active in the school. The children’s teachers knew that they needed to do a good job or the parents would complain. Kobe’s friends’ parents all had good jobs with high salaries.
Kobe’s homework assignments were very difficult. Sometimes, he had to put in many hours’ worth of work to prepare for his tests. His parents’ idea was that it was good for him. But, his mother and father’s school experience wasn’t nearly as demanding. His mother’s and father’s home towns were in different areas, but they both grew up in poor areas and the schools weren’t very good. In Kobe’s mind, his parents just didn’t understand how hard it was.
Kobe knew that even though it was hard sometimes, his new school was a good place for him. The school’s positive aspects far outweighed the negatives.
That’s the end of the lesson on advanced possessives.
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