English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

What are possessive nouns (with examples)

What are possessive nouns? (with examples)

A possessive noun is a noun that indicates property (or possession) by ending ‘s or simply an apostrophe.

Examples of Possessive Nouns

These are some examples of possessive nouns (shaded):

  • a dog’s bone
  • a man’s jacket
  • a lion’s mane

The examples above are obviously about possession (ie ownership). They refer to“the dog bone“, “man’s jacket“ y “lion’s mane“. However, possessive nouns do not always refer so obviously to possession. Look at these examples of possessive nouns:

  • a book’s pages
  • a day’s pay
  • a week’s worth
  • the stone’s throw

Sometimes possessive nouns clearly have nothing to do with possession. Look at these examples:

  • The Children’s Minister
    (This is a minister for children’s affairs. The minister does not belong to the children.)
  • Rembrandt’s paintings
    (These are paintings by Rembrandt. He does not own them.)

Entonces, para decir que los sustantivos posesivos indican posesión, debe aceptar un amplio alcance para la palabra “possession“.

Using Apostrophes to Form Possessive Nouns

You’ll notice that all of the examples above end in ‘s. However, not all possessive nouns end this way. Here are the basic rules for creating a possessive noun with an apostrophe:

Type Example of Type Possessive Noun Comment
singular noun dog dog’s dinner
dog’s dinners
Add ‘s for a singular possessor (in this case, a dog).
(NB: It is irrelevant how many things are owned. So, it is irrelevant if the dog has one dinner or a hundred dinners. Only the number of possessors is important.)
plural noun dogs dogs’ dinner
dogs’ dinners
Add  for a plural possessor
singular noun ending -s Chris Chris’ hat
Chris’s hat
Add ‘s or  for a singular possessor that ends -s. You have a choice.
plural noun not ending -s People People’s rights Add ‘s for a plural possessor that does not end –s.

Possessive Nouns with Inanimate Objects

As you can see from some of the examples above (eg,“the pages of a book“, “a day’s pay“), it is possible that inanimate things (eg,“a book“) and even intangible things (e.g.,“one day“) possess objects from a grammatical perspective. Note, however, that some writers like to avoid using the possessive form with inanimate objects. In other words, they would prefer:

  • The pages of a book
  • the nib of a biro.


  • A book’s pages
  • A biro’s nib

This is one of those times when you can let your instincts guide you. Both versions are acceptable. Pick the one that squeaks the least in your ears.

Also, don’t forget that some nouns can be used as adjectives (called“attributable nouns“). Therefore, you may not need to make a decision about whether to use“of“or a possessive noun. For example:

  • A car door (best version)
  • A door of a car (possible but awkward)
  • A car’s door (possible but still awkward)

Possessive Nouns in Time Expressions

Los sustantivos posesivos son comunes en las expresiones de tiempo (o “temporary expresions“, as they are also known). For example:

  • A day’s salary
  • Two days’ salary
  • Three years’ insurance
  • Three years’ insurance

Similarly, possessive nouns are used for other measures not related to time. For example:

  • Five dollars’ worth
  • A stone’s throw away

Why Should I Care about Possessive Nouns?

Here are three notable points related to possessive nouns.

(Point 1) Get your apostrophe placement right by spotting the possessor.

Looking at the table above showing the rules for placing apostrophes, you would think that the rules are complicated. They are not. Here is a simple rule that works for every type of noun:

Simple Rule for Apostrophe Placement

Everything to the left of the apostrophe is the possessor (that is, the possessive noun).
(That’s it. It works for every type of noun.)

(Point 2) Get your apostrophe placement right by understanding the history of possessive nouns

In Old English, the possessive form was created by adding“-es“at the end of the noun, regardless of whether it was singular or plural or how it ended. It was a 100% rule: just add“-es“.

Then, inevitably, people start to get lazy. They realized that all they needed to make a noun sound possessive was the sound“s“. So, they used as few letters as possible to retain the sound“s“and then they replaced the missing letters of the“-es“original with an apostrophe. (NB: Let’s not forget that the main function of apostrophes is to replace missing letters. So, in reality, apostrophes in possessive nouns are performing their original function.)

Here are some examples:

  • Dog > Doges > dog’s bone
    (Replace the “e,“ but keep the “s“ for the sound.)
  • Dogs > Dogses > dogs bone
    (Replace the “es.“ We already have an “s“ sound.)
  • Charles > Charleses > Charles house
    (Replace the “es.“ We already have an “s“ sound.)
  • Charles > Charleses > Charles‘s house
    (Replace the “e,“ but keep the “s,“ if you want another “s“ sound, i.e., you say “Without Charles“ and not “Charles.“)
  • Children > Childrenes > Children‘s toys
    (Replace the “e,“ but keep the “s“for the sound.)

It works for every noun on the planet.

(Point 3) Forming the possessive form surnames is no different to any other noun.

The possessive form of a surname is formed like any other noun. However, there is often confusion (especially with a last name ending in“-s“) because the plural itself may seem strange. For example:

  • The Joneses live on the corner.
    (“Joneses“ is the plural of “Jones.“ Once this bit is clear, the rest is easy.)
  • The Joneses’ house is on the corner.
    (“Joneses’“ is the possessive form of “Joneses.“ It follows the standard rules.)

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