Use of the apostrophe to form possessives means to show ownership. While a number of usage rules exist, the following are the commonly accepted methods of forming possessives:

Singular nouns

For years, the standard was to form the possessive of all singular nouns by adding the apostrophe and s ('s). This rule was followed regardless of the final consonant. Today, however, the following exceptions are generally permitted:

Singular nouns not ending in "s"

The standard rule of adding 's applies.

the boy's toys (one boy)
the baritone's pitch pipe
a full day's pay

Singular nouns ending in "s"

Add 's unless the next word begins with s.

the hostess's invitation
the hostess' seat
the witness's answer
the witness' story

Special expressions

Some words ending in sibilants ("s" sounds) take only the apostrophe when followed by words beginning with the letter s.

for goodness' sake
for appearance' sake
Butz' statement

Singular proper names ending in "s"

The use of only the apostrophe is recommended.

Charles' friend        Joe Liles' arrangement        Moses' laws

Plural nouns

Plural nouns not ending in "s"

Add the 's to form the possessive.

the alumni's contributions
women's rights

Plural nouns ending in "s"

Add only the apostrophe.

the tenors' music
the boys' mother (more than one boy)
states' rights

Nouns plural in form, singular in meaning

Add only the apostrophe

United States' wealth
a Thoroughbreds' victory

Joint possession, individual possession

Use a possessive form after only the last word if ownership is joint.

Fred and Vern's choreography plan is great.
Joe and Greg's arrangement needs fine tuning.

Use a possessive form after both words if the objects are individually owned.

Fred's and Vern's uniforms were at the cleaners.
Lou's and Earl's arrangements are copyrighted.

Quasi possessives

Follow the rules above in composing the possessive form of words that appear in specialized phrases.

a day's pay
two weeks' vacation
your money's worth

Possessive pronouns

Possessive personal pronouns ending in s do not use the apostrophe.

yoursours         theirs

Notice that it's is a contraction of it is, not the possessive of the pronoun it. If an editor uses an apostrophe with a pronoun, he should double check to be sure that the meaning of the sentence calls for a contraction.

you're (you are)it's (it is)
there's (there is)         who's (who is)

It's (it is) a wise dog that scratches its (possessive) fleas.


back to Index

back to Aids for Bulletin Editors