A plural possessive noun represents more than one thing or person, place, or thing and shows ownership. Let's look at how you make a noun plural and possessive, as well as the rules that apply to their uses.
As you've probably learned in school, a noun is a person, place, thing or idea. In English, nouns are most often used as the subject of a sentence (which does the action) and/or the object (which the action is done to). For example, consider this sentence:
The cat chased the dog around the house last night.
The noun "cat" is the subject (the thing doing the chasing) and the noun "dog" is the object (the thing being chased). If you need more help with the concept, we have a whole article on subjects and objects.
Nouns are either singular or plural, depending on whether there is one or many of the thing in question. "Cat" is a singular noun. "Cats" is a plural noun.
After that quick review, it's time to talk about plural possessive nouns. A plural possessive noun is exactly what it sounds like: a plural noun with a possessive ending to show ownership. For example, take this sentence:
We got our cats' beds from the store.
Here, the noun "cats'" is neither the subject (which is "we") nor the object (which is "beds"). Instead, "cats'" is a plural possessive noun, showing that the object of the sentence belongs to one particular group. The beds belong to the cats. That's the fundamental idea.
There are certain basic rules that English follows fairly consistently when it comes to constructing possessive nouns.
Most English plurals end in S. If that's the case, to make the plural noun possessive, simply add an apostrophe. Going back to the cats' beds, we start with the singular noun cat, then pluralize it to cats, then make it possessive as cats'. Here are a few more examples:
Words with irregular plurals that don't end in "s" are made possessive as if they were singular; that is, by adding an apostrophe-S. "There was a line to the men's room at the children's choral concert." Both "men" and "children" are plural, but they take an apostrophe-S as if they were singular.
Hyphenated and compound nouns need an apostrophe and "s" added to the last noun, like fathers-in-law's.
If two or more nouns are joined together, acting together, then you should add an apostrophe and an "s" to only the last noun.
If you have two or more nouns together, but they have different ownership, each will need an apostrophe and "s" added.
Nouns are words that name people, places, things, and ideas. There are different ways to categorize them, and many nouns will fit into several categories. For example, "dog" is a common, countable, concrete noun. Continue on for an explanation of these and other kinds of nouns.
All the nouns in these groups consistently follow the plural possessive rules described above.
The two key points to a plural possessive noun are that it represents more than one of itself and it shows ownership. Follow the rules detailed above and you'll have mastered plural possessive nouns in no time.
For more on oddities among nouns, take a look at our in-depth exploration of irregular plurals. Can you apply what you learned about possessive nouns to this group?