Formation and Usage of Possessive Nouns

How to Use Possessive Nouns for ESL Learners

a man sitting on his motorcycle in his garage
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Possessive nouns are used to show ownership. In other words, possessive nouns indicate that something belongs to someone. Possessive nouns are always placed directly before the noun they modify.

Formation and Examples of Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns are often proper names, but can also be objects or ideas.

Examples

  • Jennifer's coat is beautiful!
  • Peter's house is on the corner of the next street.
  • The book's pages are made of plastic.
  • The theory's application has been tested in India.

The formation of possessive nouns is sometimes confusing to students. The reason for this is that many languages commonly use 'of' for this construction. While 'of' can sometimes be used in place of possessive nouns, it is not nearly as common in English as in other languages.

Examples

  • The color of his shirt NOT shirt's color
  • The ball of his dog NOT his dog's ball

In everyday English, however, we generally use possessive nouns rather than this 'of' form.

Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns modify other nouns to indicate possession.

Examples

  • Peter's motorcycle
  • The building's structure

Form the possessive noun by placing an apostrophe (') after the noun + s.

  • Peter -> Peter's motorcycle
  • building -> building's structure

When nouns end in 's' it can be difficult to know where to place the 's' for the possessive noun. For nouns ending in 's', or to use the possessive noun with regular plurals, place the apostrophe directly after the 's'.

Do not add another 's'.

  • Parents -> parents' concern for their children
  • Computers -> computers' manufacturer

The placement of the apostrophe in a possessive pronoun indicates whether the possessive noun refers to the singular or the plural form. Notice that this construction can change the meaning from singular to plural.

Examples

  • The cat's favorite food is tuna. (one cat)
  • The cats' favorite food is tuna. (more than one cat)

Possessive Noun Checklist

  • Possessive nouns are used with proper names, objects and ideas
  • Place possessive nouns directly before the noun they modify
  • Form the possessive noun using an apostrophe before 's' in the singular
  • Form plural possessive nouns by placing an apostrophe after 's'
  • Note the placement of an apostrophe to check whether the possessive pronoun is singular or plural

Learn more detailed information on all three types of possessive forms, including possessive nouns, pronouns, and adjectives.