Although Halloween is coming, this post is not about that kind of possession (sorry). It is about possessives. I have written about possessives before, but when I write about something again, I like to look it from a different perspective than previously, or add new information, or present the information in a different way. So here you go: Everything you have wanted to know—or need to know—about possessives.
- Obviously, possessives imply ownership; they are not to be confused with plurals. Plurals are just more than one, and you don’t usually use an apostrophe in them. Possessives usually have an apostrophe.
- When we talk about possessives, we are talking about only nouns (things or people) and pronouns (words that stand in for things and people). Nothing else has a possessive. Possessive nouns all have apostrophes. Possessive pronouns do not ever have apostrophes.
- To make the possessive of a singular noun, all you do is add an apostrophe and an s: the cat’s toy, the girl’s hair; Joe’s book. Things, not just animals and people, can also be made possessive: the book’s title, the school’s auditorium.
- To make the possessive of plural nouns that do not end in s, you also add an apostrophe and an s: the men’s team, the children’s jackets. One issue is men’s room. We usually say ladies room or ladies’ room or even lady’s room. The first isn’t possessive at all. The second is a plural possessive, meaning it belongs to all the ladies. The third is a singular possessive, I guess meaning it belongs to each lady separately. All are OK. However, you can’t really do the same with men. It is the men’s room. The equivalent of saying ladies room (no possessive) is men room. That doesn’t sound quite right. But mens isn’t a word (double plural????). The equivalent of saying ladies’ room is men’s room (plural possessive). The equivalent of saying lady’s room (singular possessive) is saying man’s room, which again sounds bizarre. So I would stick with men’s room. Oh, the same goes for women’s room. Womens room is wrong, as is woman’s room.
- Plural nouns, which usually end in s, are made possessive by simply adding an apostrophe at the end: the boys’ toys (belonging to more than one boy), the highways’ tolls (more than one highway), the neighbors’ phone numbers (more than one neighbor).
- Singular nouns that end in s already, whether they are common nouns or proper nouns, generally add apostrophe s. Many of us learned in school that you just add s, but it appears that the accepted way to write them is to add both the apostrophe and the s, usually the way they are pronounced: the bus’s schedule, my boss’s desk, Thomas’s train, Frederick Douglass’s biography, the princess’s shoe. The plural possessive of those: the buses’ schedule, my bosses’ desks, the princesses’ shoes. Sometimes you’ll have a name, for example, Miles, where you might just add the apostrophe because you don’t pronounce it Miles’s. Or maybe you do, so you can also write it that way.
- Exceptions to that last rule include Jesus. (Jesus’). And I would then assume, Moses (Moses’). Also, words or names ending in an es that sounds like ez get just an apostrophe for the possessive: Socrates’, Hippocrates’.
- Possessive pronouns, on the other hand, have no apostrophes: ours, hers, his, yours, theirs . . . and of course its.
- Be careful with last names. You can make them plural. You can make them possessive. You can make them plural possessive. Let’s take Green as a last name. Make it plural: The Greens live next door. Make it singular possessive: Mike Green’s car is in the driveway. Make it plural possessive: We are going to the Greens’ house for dinner. How about Jones? Here come all the Joneses. Earl Jones’s car was hit. The Joneses’ basement flooded. Sometimes you just have to figure out how to make a last name plural. How about Fernandez? Fernandezes? In this case, I might just say the Fernandez family. So, when you have a sign made for your porch, it is best to say The Garcias. . . . not The Garcia’s. The Joneses . . . not The Jones’ or The Joneses’.
- What about “double possessives”? Shirley and Ed’s car? Yes, if it belongs to both of them jointly, use just one possessive. But Shirley’s and Ed’s cars, meaning you are talking about the car that belongs to Shirley and the car that belongs to Ed.
Nuff said about that.
Grammar Diva News:
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My next book is an e-book on self-publishing. No cover yet. I am hoping to have it out by the end of November. I know . . . there are lots of self-publishing books, but like my other books, this one will be pretty simple and friendly. I have been through the process nine or ten times now, so . . . Tentative Title: I Wrote a Book – Now What? The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing
November will be a busy month for me:
November 4 – Conducting a grammar workshop for Redwood Writers Anthology Class.
November 11 – Presenting a grammar talk to the Mt. Diablo Writers.
November 25 – Presenting a grammar talk to the Fremont Writers.
Oh, and October 16, I am scheduled to read my contribution to the 2017 Redwood Writers Anthology at Dining with Local Authors in Santa Rosa.
Contact me for more info.