Many people have trouble distinguishing between possessive nouns and plural nouns. Possessive nouns and pronouns demonstrate ownership or some similar relationship over something else. Plural nouns indicate more than one person, place or thing.
Possessive nouns typically include an apostrophe. For example:
Think of the apostrophe mark as a hook or hand reaching out to take ownership of the object. Without the little hook or hand grabbing onto the ‘s’ or the next word, the noun is simply plural.
Some possessive nouns are actually personal pronouns. A pronoun is a word that can stand in for the noun in a sentence. Pronouns are often used to keep sentences from sounding rambling or redundant. Personal pronouns reflect ownership when used appropriately in a sentence, and do not get the apostrophe + s added to them.
Personal pronouns as possessives look like this:
Five basic grammar rules cover the majority of instances where writers encounter possessive nouns.
Rule #1: Making singular nouns possessiveAdd an apostrophe + s to most singular nouns and to plural nouns that do not end in s.
You’ll use this rule the most, so pay particular attention to it. English has some words that are plural but do not add an ‘s’. Words like children, sheep, women and men are such words. These plural words are treated as if they were singular words when making noun possessives.
Rule #2: Making plural nouns possessive Add an apostrophe only to plural nouns that already end in s.
You don’t need to add an extra ‘s’ to plural nouns that already end with the letter ‘s’. Simply tuck the apostrophe onto the end to indicate that the plural noun is now a plural possessive noun.
Rule #3: Making hyphenated nouns and compound nouns plural. Compound and hyphenated words can be tricky. Add the apostrophe + s to the end of the compound words or the last word in a hyphenated noun.
Rule #4: Indicating possession when two nouns are joined together. You may be writing about two people or two places or things that share possession of an object. If two nouns share ownership, indicate possession only once, and on the second noun. Add the apostrophe + s to the second noun only.
Rule #5: Indicating possession when two nouns are joined, and ownership is separate.This is the trickiest of all, but thankfully you’ll probably need this rule infrequently. When two nouns indicate ownership, but the ownership is separate, each noun gets the apostrophe + s. The examples below may help you understand exactly what this means.
Personal pronouns never use the apostrophe to show ownership. Personal pronouns are words like my, your, her, his, our, their and its. They already imply ownership within the word itself.
One of the biggest sources of confusion to writers is the difference between its and it’s. Normally the noun possessive is formed by adding apostrophe + s. However, we just mentioned that personal pronouns never take the apostrophe + s. It is a personal pronoun used to describe things. “It’s” is a contraction between the words “it is.” Contractions are two words shortened into one.
A good rule of thumb to check your own writing is to try to substitute the words “it is” every time you use “it’s." If the sentence makes sense, you’ve used it correctly. If the sentence does not make sense, reach for the possessive case and use instead “its.”