How to Use a Possessive Apostrophe

a pink parrot below: s's

A possessive is a word that ends with an apostrophe and an S that shows someone or something possesses (has or owns) something. There are several rules involving possessives. So, in this post, we’re going to clear up any confusion by breaking down all of the ways a possessive apostrophe and S can behave.

Singular noun
This one’s pretty simple—just add an apostrophe and an S to the end of the noun. (PS: People’s names are nouns.)

John’s bedroom is blue.
The cat’s bedroom is red.

Singular noun ending in S
The same rule usually applies if the singular noun ends in an S.

Jess’s room is green.
James’s house is nicer.

(Beware! Some style guides don’t use the last S in this situation; they end the word with the apostrophe. If you’re writing for a business or publication, you’ll want to check their rules about this.)

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Plural noun
This is treated the same as a singular noun. Just add an apostrophe and an S to the end.

The children’s bedrooms are on the second floor.
The sheep’s bedroom is in the barn.

Plural noun ending in S
In this case, you only add an apostrophe to the end of the word.  No S.

The parents’ bedroom is above the kitchen.
The kittens’ bowls of milk are by the door.

Make sure you check that all your apostrophes and S’s are in the right place—sometimes they’re very sneaky!

This post was written by Erin Servais and Maud Grauer of Dot and Dash, an author-services company focusing on women authors.

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Oh My: Gerunds and Possessives

Pretend you just got on the bus and the only open seat is next to a woman who sat her enormous purse on the empty seat. You want to ask politely if she could move her purse so you could sit beside her. Which question would you ask:

Do you mind me sitting here?
Do you mind my sitting here?

The second sentence is correct. If you picked the first sentence, don’t stress. People make this mistake so frequently that the correct way can often sound wrong.

But why is the second sentence correct? To understand, we first have to learn about gerunds.

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What is a gerund?
A gerund is a word that looks like a verb (because it ends in –ing) but acts like a noun. In the example above, sitting is the gerund.

Here are more examples. In these sentences, the gerund is in italics.

The waiting is the most difficult part.
His chattering is driving me crazy.
Your quizzing him is helping his test grades.

Gerunds and possessives
Because gerunds act like nouns, a possessive (my, your, his, her, their) goes before them. Think about regular nouns and how they use possessives.

my hat
your cat
his bat

Gerunds work the same way. Let’s look at the gerund dancing:

My dancing won first place.
Your dancing won second place.
Her dancing won third place.

Miscommunication
When you don’t use a possessive in front of a gerund, there can be a miscommunication. Let’s go back to our bus scenario. If you asked, “Do you mind me sitting here?” the emphasis is placed on me instead of the act of sitting. Essentially, you would be asking the woman whether she minded you personally. However, if you ask, “Do you mind my sitting here?” the emphasis is placed on sitting and not on you.

Likewise, look at this example:

You snoring makes me want to poke my eyes out.
Your snoring makes me want to poke my eyes out.

In the first sentence, it sounds like you, personally, are why the speaker wants to hurt herself. In the second sentence, it sounds like it’s the snoring, and not simply you, that is causing the annoyance.

Remember
Gerunds look like verbs ending in –ing, but they act like nouns. Like a noun, a possessive goes before a gerund.

More examples:

I appreciate your taking the kids to school.
I think my vacationing was a good idea.
Do you mind my staring at you?

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
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