Learning how to use plural possessive nouns is an important aspect of mastering English grammar. This type of noun represents more than one noun (person, place, thing, concept, or idea) and expresses ownership. Discover how to make a noun both plural and possessive, as well as the rules that apply to the use of plural possessive nouns.
Plural Possessive Nouns: Explanation and Basic Rules
Before you can fully understand what a plural possessive noun is, you'll need a refresher on what a noun is, what a plural noun is and what a possessive noun is.
Nouns: Subject vs. Object
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 receives the action).
Example 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).
Singular vs. Plural Nouns
Nouns are either singular or plural, depending on whether there is one or many of the thing(s) in question. Cat is a singular noun. Cats is a plural noun.
- Most singular nouns can be made into plural nouns by adding -s or -es to the end of the word.
- However, some terms are irregular plural nouns, which means that they don't follow that general rule (such as children being the plural of child).
Use this plural nouns worksheet for practice forming plurals.
Nouns sometimes need to be written in a way that shows ownership, which requires knowing how to use the possessive case. This typically requires adding an apostrophe followed by an "s" to the end of a word.
There are many examples of possessive nouns, including singular and plural versions. Plural possessives are more complex than singular possessives because most plural nouns already have an "s" at the end.
What Is a Plural Possessive Noun?
After that quick review, it's time to focus specifically on plural possessive nouns. A plural possessive noun is exactly what it sounds like: a plural noun with a possessive ending to show ownership.
Example 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. There is more than one cat and there are multiple beds. That's the fundamental idea.
How to Construct a Plural Possessive Noun
There are certain basic rules for constructing possessive nouns. These rules are fairly consistent, though there are always a few (or more) exceptions to the rules in English grammar.
Plurals That End in S
Most English plurals end in "s." If that's the case, to make the plural noun possessive, simply add an apostrophe after the "s." Going back to the cats' beds, the singular noun is cat and its plural form is cats. The plural possessive form is cats'. Consider a few more examples.
- dogs' treats - treats belonging to dogs
- stores' management - management of multiple stores
- executives' decision - a decision made by multiple executives, such as the executive team
Irregular Plurals Not Ending in S
Words with irregular plurals that don't end in "s" are made possessive as if they were singular; that is, by adding an apostrophe followed by an "s."
Example sentence - There was a line to the men's room at the children's choral concert.
Both men and children are plural nouns. Since they don't end in "s," their plural forms are men's and children's. Other examples include:
- sheep's wool - wool on multiple sheep (sheep can be singular or plural)
- people's will - will of the people (people is the plural of person)
- fungi's origin - origin of fungi (fungi is the plural of fungus)
Hyphenated and Compound Nouns
To make a hyphenated or compound noun plural, you'll have to make a few changes. Generally, adding an -s or -es to the first word in the phrase will make it plural. To make it possessive, you'll need to add an apostrophe followed by an "s" to the last word, or just an apostrophe if the last word already ends in "s." For example, if you have had more than one father-in-law and they've all had bad attitudes, you could say "my fathers-in-law's attitudes."
- governors-general's policies - policies of multiple governors-general
- passers-by's voices - voices of multiple people who are passing by
- editors-in-chief's legacies - legacies of multiple editors-in-chief
Two or More Nouns Together
When referencing two or more nouns that are acting together, then the plural possessive form requires adding an apostrophe followed by an "s" to only the last noun. For example, Mary and Kelley are college roommates who share a dorm room. You'd say Mary and Kelley's room to refer to their place of residence. They're acting together because the room belongs to both of them.
- Jack and Jill's hill - a hill that belongs to Jack and Jill
- George, Jerry and Elaine's relationship - the relationship among George, Jerry and Elaine
- Mom and Dad's house - house belonging to Mom and Dad
Multiple Nouns With Different Ownership
When you have two or more nouns together, but they have different ownership, each noun will need an apostrophe and "s" added to the end and the objects will need to be plural. If Rachael and Nathan jointly own two houses, you'd say Rachael and Nathan's houses. But, if Rachael owns her house and Nathan owns his, you'd say Rachael's and Nathan's houses.
- Jan's and Tony's cars - Jan and Tony own two separate cars
- George's and Harriet's grades - George and Harriet receive separate grades
- Matilda's, Yvette's, and Marianne's ambitions - Matilda, Yvette, and Marianne each have different ambitions
Proper Nouns That End in S
When a proper noun already ends in an "s," you have a choice. You can make it possessive simply by adding an apostrophe after the last letter. Or, you can add an apostrophe followed by an "s." When you specify multiple nouns, such as Jessica and Chris, you are already referring to more than one person. To specify that something belongs to both of them, such as their wedding, you could either write Jessica and Chris's wedding. Alternately, you could use "Jessica and Chris' wedding."
- the Wells and Stephens' vacation - a joint vacation of the Wells and Stephens families
- Sally and Lucas's engagement - the engagement of Sally and Lucas
- Carlos' and Nicholas' term papers - one term paper that belongs to Carlos and one that belongs to Nicholas
Types of Nouns
There are several different types of nouns, though they all consistently follow the plural possessive rules described above. There are different ways to categorize them, and many nouns will fit into several categories. For example, the noun "dog" fits into the common, countable and concrete noun categories.
- Concrete nouns refer to things that can be perceived through the senses. The vast majority of nouns are concrete: bricks, trees, unicycles, zeppelins.
- Abstract nouns refer to things that cannot be perceived directly by the senses. Examples include liberty, peace and thought.
- Collective nouns represent a group of things or people. Since the noun refers to the group as a single whole, it's generally treated as singular. Of course, if there's more than one group, it takes the plural form. Examples include family, class, faculty, and society.
- Common nouns are your run-of-the-mill nouns. Everyday things go in this group, which includes thins like cat, moon, daisy, boys, forest, and power.
- Countable and uncountable nouns are pretty easy to figure out. Countable nouns can be counted, like books, trees, miles, girls, and buildings. Uncountable nouns are things that can't be counted, like glory, honor or horror.
- Proper nouns are names referring to a specific person, place, thing, or idea. They are always capitalized. These include Kentucky, Arianna, and The Great Gatsby.
Practice Exercises: Try Your Skills
Now that you've reviewed the rules for plural possessive nouns, put your skills to the test with the practice questions below. On a piece of paper, write the correct plural possessive of each item listed. Do your best to answer on your own before scrolling past the items, then move on to check your work against the answers provided.
- a party for the teachers
- the feathers of the birds
- the jobs of students
- the barks of dogs
- the dressing room for women
- the uniforms of nurses
- the cage of more than one mouse
- zoos of Tennesee
- a cat jointly owned by Megan and Evan
- a car that mom and dad own together
Practice Exercise Answers
Don't peek ahead if you haven't already written down your answers to the practice exercises above. Instead, stop and go back to see if you can get the answers on your own. The only way you'll know if you've really mastered how to form plural possessive nouns is if you take the time to test your skills. Once you have completed the practice exercises, check your work against the answers below.
- the party for the teachers - a teachers' party
- the feathers of the birds - the birds' feathers
- the jobs of students - the students' jobs
- the barks of dogs - the dogs' barks
- the dressing room for women - the women's dressing room
- the uniforms of nurses - the nurses' uniforms
- the cage of more than one mouse - the mice's cage
- zoos of Tennessee - Tennessee's zoos
- a cat jointly owned by Megan and Evan - Megan and Evan's cat
- a car that mom and dad own together - mom and dad's car
Nouns to Remember
The two key points to remember about plural possessive nouns are that they represent more than one of something, and they show ownership. Follow the rules detailed above and you'll have mastered the art of writing plural possessive nouns in no time. For more on oddities among nouns, take a look at irregular plural nouns. See if you can apply what you learned about possessive nouns to this group.