I was originally going to title this post “Plural S vs. Possessive S” since there seems to be a growing problem where people are using the ” ‘s ” when, in fact, the word is simply a plural word. Plural words alone don’t require an apostrophe. Fellow grammar friends please excuse me for using a space between my quotation marks and the apostrophe as I know this is incorrect, but I have chosen to do so for visual ease.
There is another troublesome problem with the ” ‘s ” that I wanted to point out, which is why I thought the new title would be more appropriate. I have seen this MANY times this week as well. That is the “its” vs. “it’s” concern in which case doesn’t follow the typical ” ‘s ” for possessive form. Plus, there is no plural, so it wouldn’t have been applicable had I stuck to the original title. Not to mention there are many other times it is appropriate to use an ” ‘s ” in contractions.
So, let’s proceed!
When to use an ” ‘s “
There are many situations in which an ” ‘s ” is appropriate. The main problem I see, though, is where it is being used incorrectly. Regardless, I still wanted to discuss the correct ways to use it as well.
- To show possession. Examples:
“That is Aurora’s toy.”
“My friend’s dog loves to sleep.”
“Our car’s battery had to be replaced last month.”
In each case they are to show possession. Therefore an object or action being owned must be in the sentence as well.
Some exceptions are when a word ends with an “s.” If the word is plural, for example, the apostrophe will come after the “s” Example:
“Our neighbors’ dog barks all night.”
A word that naturally ends in an “s” such as a last name or other name causes much debate in the grammar world. Please mind you I am only referring to a situation in which the word is possessive. Some people use inappropriate apostrophes in last names when they make them plural, which is a different matter. I follow the rule of still using the ” ‘s ” despite some who may only use an apostrophe alone.
Why? Because the apostrophe alone follows a plural word, and since these are singular words they require the apostrophe followed by the s. The exception is actually ancient names, which are to be followed by only the apostrophe – Biblical names and any names you find in ancient history. Again, though, this is the rule I follow, and I respect that the other rule is also accepted by grammar professionals as well. A rule of thumb is to stick to one specific way when both are acceptable. Don’t go back and forth between the two styles.
- As a contraction. ” ‘s ” is used as a contraction in various ways. The most common is a contraction with the word and “is,” but there are definitely many other contractions, so let’s look at few examples.
“Let’s look at a few examples.” Let’s = “let us.”
“It’s going to be a great day!” It’s = “it is.” (I will go into more detail about “it’s” vs. “its” at the wrap-up of this post.)
“She’s gone too far.” She’s = “She has.”
When NOT to use ” ‘s “
The problem tends to come in when ” ‘s ” is used inappropriately, so first, try to determine if it is appropriate using the the appropriate uses above, but also keep in mind these tips on when to NOT use an ” ‘s ” for extra guidance.
- In a plural word. This is definitely the biggest mistake I see, and it seems to be a growing trend. So, again, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room and address this issue. Something to keep in mind is if the word you are using is plural and isn’t in possession of anything there should be absolutely no apostrophe for any reason (unless, of course, there is a contraction). Here are some common examples I see.
“Mom’s – what have you been up to this week?” In this case they are referring to more than one mom, and that mom isn’t in possession of anything. Therefore, it should be a simple plural word – “Moms.” “Mom’s” means ONE mom that owns an action or object. The correct use of “Mom’s” would be: “That is mom’s coffee.”
“Our kid’s started school this week.” Again, in this case it is referring to more than one kid, and they aren’t possessing anything. Therefore, it should be a simple plural word – “kids.” “Kid’s” means ONE kid that owns an action or object. The correct use of “kid’s” would be: “That is our kid’s toy.” If there is more than one kid (kids) it would be: “That is our kids’ toy.”
I see it often in titles as well such as “Fun Artist’s” I want to ask “Fun Artist’s what?” Who is the artist and what do they have that is fun? Obviously in this case it is meant to mean “Artists” plural – no possession. Of course, if the word “Group” were to follow then it would need to have possession. “Fun Artists’ Group.”
In all cases the word was simply supposed to be a plural word, so before you write (or type) that ” ‘s ” think about the meaning. Do you mean more than one? If so, ” ‘s ” is not correct!
- To make plural a last name that ends in “s.” This one tends to grate the nerves of those who have last names that end in “s” (like my own)! To make it plural, you do NOT use an ” ‘s.” Instead, you use “es.” For example, my last name “Roberts” would be “Robertses.” Trust me, I know it’s a mouthful to say, which is why most people know resort to “The Roberts Family” instead of “The Robertses.” Regardless, “The Roberts’s” is incorrect except to make it possessive (if you do use ” ‘s ” after the “s” like I do).
- The possessive form of “it.” The possessive form of “it” is “its.” “It’s” means “it is” or “it has” (depending on context). I know this one can be confusing since ” ‘s ” is often associated with possession, but one way to think of this situation is to think of other possessive pronouns: ours, theirs, yours, hers, his, mine, etc. You’ll see none of them end in ” ‘s,” so that may be helpful to remember that “its” doesn’t either. One thing I suggest is reading the sentence. If you have used “it’s,” and “it is” or “it has” doesn’t make sense in its place, you may see you meant for “it” to possess something. In that case, “its” is the correct word.
- Other words that end in “s.” There are other words that end in “s” that aren’t plural, but once in a while I see an ” ‘s ” used instead there, too. There are two things I would suggest in this case when in doubt. Consult the dictionary if you aren’t sure. Again, try to use a a contraction in its place. If it doesn’t make sense chances are that “s” shouldn’t be detached from the word with an apostrophe.
So why go through all this trouble? It’s worth it! If you’re just learning grammar, you are going to be establishing a solid foundation for years to come. If you’re a blogger, writer, or business owner, you’re going to let readers and clients know you care about how your work is presented and take you professionally. I know I am not the only person who finds it hard to take professionals seriously when poor grammar abounds. It matters.
*View all posts in my Grammar 101 series*
Grammar Resource of the Week:
This week’s grammar resource is Grammarbook.com. There is a blog with great resources as well as books you can purchase for a lot of great grammar information! (I personally haven’t read these books myself, but I love the resources on the website and blog!)