- 1 What is the possessive case? (with examples)
- 2 Examples of the possessive case
- 3 Complications with the possessive case
- 4 Use of apostrophes to form possessive nouns
- 5 Why should I care about the possessive case?
- 6 (Reason 1) When using an apostrophe for possession, put it in the correct place.
- 7 (Reason 2) Do not add an apostrophe to a single word because it ends in“s“.
- 8 (Reason 3) Don’t confuse possessive determiners with similar-sounding contractions.
- 9 (Reason 4) Do not put an apostrophe around yours , her , our or them .
- 10 (Reason 5) Don’t use his/her .
- 11 Key Points
What is the possessive case? (with examples)
The possessive case is used to show possession (ie ownership). The possessive case applies to nouns, pronouns, and determiners. For example:
- Possessive Nouns. With a noun, the possessive case is usually shown by preceding it with“of“or by adding ‘s (or just ‘) to the end.
- Possessive Pronouns. Pronouns in the possessive case are“Own“, “dry“, “yours“, “yours“, “are“, “our“ y “from them“.
- Possessive Determiners. The possessive case determiners are“mi“, “tu“, “are“, “ella“, “are“, “our“ y “are“. (Possessive determiners are known as possessive adjectives in traditional grammar.)
Examples of the possessive case
The possessive case is predominantly used to show possession, but not always. Look at these examples (shaded possessive case):
- I don’t have a bank account, because I don’t know my mother’s maiden name. (Comedian Paula Poundstone)
(These two are clearly about possession. They mean:“my mother“ y “the maiden name of my mother“).
- You can tell a lot about a guy‘s character by the way he eats jelly beans. (President Ronald Reagan)
(These two are clearly about possession. They mean:“character of a partner“ y “shape of him“).
- Psychiatry allows us to correct our faults by confessing the faults of our parents. (Educator Laurence J Peter)
(These three are also about possession.)
- My theory of evolution is that Darwin was adopted. (Comedian Steven Wright)
(Remember that a noun can become possessive by preceding it with“of“. This is common when the possessor is not a person. In this example, the possessor is“evolution“, what“has“ “my theory“. You can see that the idea of possession (ie ownership) can be quite abstract).
- Hope is the varnish tomorrow over today’s disappointment. (Comedian Evan Esar)
(Here are two more examples of abstract possession. How can a time own something? This is common in time expressions like“one day payment“ y “two week vacation“).
- Wagner’s music is better than it sounds. (Comedian Edgar Wilson Nye)
(This is another example of abstract possession. Wagner does not own the music. It is Wagner’s music. This happens in terms such as“Children’s Stories“, which are stories for children (not owned by them), and“Picasso paintings“, which are paintings of Picasso (which are not owned by him).)
Complications with the possessive case
The possessive case often generates debate among grammarians. The main problems are:
Q: Is the possessive case the same as the genitive case? A: Yes
Los términos “possessive case“ y “genitive case“they can be used interchangeably. However, since the possessive case very often has nothing to do with possession, some grammarians make a distinction between the“possessive case“and the“genitive case“. Look at this example:
- He used Mike’s garage to store Monet’s paintings.
There are two examples of the possessive case in the sentence above. The second example, however, tells us that the paintings were by Monet. It does not indicate that Monet owned them. Some grammarians would call this the genitive case as opposed to the possessive case.
Q: Are possessive determiners a type of pronoun? A: Yes
Los determinantes posesivos (“mi“, “tu“, “are“, “ella“, “are“, “our“ y “are“) have a pronominal function (that is, they act as pronouns when they replace nouns). Therefore, they are also classified as possessive pronouns. This can cause confusion because traditionally possessive pronouns are“Own“, “dry“, “the“, “yours“, “are“, “our“ y “from them“.
Here at Grammar Monster, we follow the convention that classifies them all as“possessive“and classifies them into two subgroups: possessive determiners (“mi“, “tu“, etc.) and possessive pronouns (“Own“, “dry“, etc.). To avoid this confusion, some grammarians call absolute possessive pronouns.“Own“, “dry“, etc.
Use of apostrophes to form possessive nouns
These are the basic rules for creating a possessive noun with an apostrophe:
|singular noun||dog||dog dinner|
|plural noun||dogs||dog dinner|
|singular noun ending -s||chris||chris hat or chris hat|
|plural noun not ending in -s||People||people’s rights|
Why should I care about the possessive case?
If you are learning a foreign language, it will be worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the possessive case in English because it is a great starting point for understanding how possession is handled in the foreign language.
Here are five more good reasons to get better at the possessive case.
(Reason 1) When using an apostrophe for possession, put it in the correct place.
Look at the apostrophes in the examples below. They are different sides of the“s“, but both are correct.
- the kennel✔️
- the dog kennel✔️
So does a possessive apostrophe come before or after the“s“? This is the basic rule:
The apostrophe comes before the“s“for a single keeper (eg, a dog’s kennel) and after the“s“when it is more than one keeper (eg, the kennel of two dogs).
Note that“dog“ y “dogs“they are the possessors. The position of the apostrophe has nothing to do with“dog pound“. The thing that is owned can be singular or plural. It has no effect on the apostrophe. Look at these examples:
- A dog’s dinner✔️
- A dog’s dinners✔️
- Dinner for two dogs✔️
- Dinners for two dogs✔️
Be careful though. There are two exceptions to the basic rule:
(Exception 1) Plural words that don’t end “s“:
When the plural of a word does not end in“s“(for example, children, women, people, men), the possessive apostrophe is placed before the“s“. For example:
- children’s room✔️
- women’s shoes✔️
- people’s rights✔️
- men’s thoughts✔️
(Exception 2) Singular words that end“s“:
With singular nouns ending in“s“(eg Wales, Moses, Chris Wells), the possessive form is written by adding ‘ (just an apostrophe) or ‘s depending on how you (yes, you personally) say the possessive form. For example:
- Chris Wells’ attitude ✔️
(This is correct for those who say the attitude of Chris Wells).
- Chris Wells’ attitude ✔️
(This is correct for those who say the attitude of Chris Welliz).
Note that some style guides indicate that you should not use the version for religious characters. So if you’re talking about people like Jesus or Moses, you might want to go with the Jesus and Moses versions (as opposed to Jesus and Moses).
(Reason 2) Do not add an apostrophe to a single word because it ends in“s“.
This is a common mistake, and it’s a grammatical howler. This error is most commonly seen with plurals of nouns, but also occurs with verbs (for example, she She walks to work).
Here are some examples:
- I like the pork one. The dogs look at us. The cat looks down on us. The pigs treat us as equals. ❌
(All of these are wrong.)
- I like pigs. The dogs look at us. The cats look at us with contempt. The pigs treat us as equals.✔️
- A spoken word is not a sparrow. Once it flys away , you can’t catch it.❌
- A spoken word is not a sparrow. Once it flies away, you can’t catch it. ✔️
(This mistake is also sometimes made with verbs. It should be“Flying“).
- Tomato and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French; garlic makes it good.❌
- Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French; garlic makes it good. ✔️
(This error is more common with nouns that end in a vowel, eg, video’s ❌, banana’s ❌).
(Reason 3) Don’t confuse possessive determiners with similar-sounding contractions.
Some of the possessive determiners sound like contractions that have apostrophes. Do not mix them.
Remember that there are no apostrophes in any possessive determiner.
(1) Do not confuse its with it’s:
La contracción “it’s“it has nothing to do with possession, that is, it is not a possessive determiner.“Es“is the abbreviation for“es“ o “have“. This is a 100% rule. If you can’t expand your“es“ a “es“ o “have“then it is wrong.
- A country can be judged by the quality of its proverbs.❌
(2) Do not confuse your with you’re:
“Are“is the abbreviation for“you are“. This is a 100% rule. If you can’t expand your“your“ a “your“then it is wrong.
- Even if you fall on your face, you keep going. ❌
(The first“are“ es incorrecto. El segundo es correcto).
(3) Do not confuse their with they’re or there.
“Son“is the abbreviation for“son“. This is a 100% rule. If you can’t expand your“they are“ a “they are“then it is wrong.
- Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names .❌
(Reason 4) Do not put an apostrophe around yours , her , our or them .
There are no apostrophes in any possessive pronoun.
- These are theirs .❌
- These are theirs .✔️
- Ours are more superior than theirs. ❌
- Ours are more superior than theirs .✔️
(Reason 5) Don’t use his/her .
Look at this sentence:
- Each member is responsible for their guests. ❌
(This is clunky and old-fashioned.)
Here is the solution: when your singular person can be male or female, use“their“.
- Each member is responsible for their guests.✔️
- If its possessor is singular, place the apostrophe before the“s“. If it is plural, put it after. (But watch out for exceptions!)
- Do not put an apostrophe in a single word because it ends in“s“.
- If you are not sure whether to use“its/it’s“, “your/you are“ o “their/they’re“, expand it to the dos version
- words (“it is“, “you are“ “they are“). If your sentence now doesn’t make sense, use the first one. There are no apostrophes in any possessive determiner.
- There are no apostrophes in“hers“, “yours“, “ours“ o “theirs“.