grammar, possessive nouns

Grammar Refresher – Possessive Nouns 101

Lately, I have been editing, editing, and editing, entering a few contests, submitting a few pieces, and still working on my second novel, Wicked Tempest, all of which require oodles of editing. Therefore, I have had to refresh my grammar a bit, and I have learned a couple of things along the way about possessive nouns—sounds awful fun, right?

See how well you know your possessive nouns below (taken from REA’s Handbook of English: Grammar, Style, and Writing). I bet you learn at least one thing:


1) Use an apostrophe and an “s” to form the possessive of singular proper names and common nouns ending in the sibilant sound of “s,” “sh,” “ch,” and “z”:

(Yeats’s poetry, a lioness’s agility, Atlas’s sense of balance, the crocus’s growth)


2) Use an apostrophe alone for plural nouns ending in a sibilant sound:

(the Adams’ yacht, the girls’ locker room)


1) When one of the nouns in a series is a possessive, all of the other nouns in that series must also be in the possessive case:

(Bill’s, Henry’s, George’s, and my new restaurant…)

2) This also goes for joint possession when each word in a series possesses something different:

(James’ and Michael’s paintings are similar.)


3) When each noun in a possessive series possesses the same thing, the possessive is formed with the last noun only:

(Let’s go over to John and Mary’s house.)


1) When a possessive is followed by an appositive (a word or group of words complementing or supplementing another), the apostrophe and “s” is added to the appositive.

(I took Mrs. Green, my teacher’s, advice.)

This can also be written without commas.

( My sister Mary’s car runs well.)


2)If the appositive is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, the possessive may be formed on both the main noun and the explanatory word OR on only the explanatory word:

(Her friend’s, Christopher’s, dog always barks.)


(Her friend, Christopher’s, dog always barks.)

* * *

And you may ask, isn’t this what editors are for?

10 thoughts on “Grammar Refresher – Possessive Nouns 101”

  1. Phew – I got them all right!As a web content manager/editor I spend my life correcting possessive noun errors. I think my colleagues believe I have a red pen permanently attached to my fingers. I always explain the errors, but maybe now I'll send them to your excellent article, Erin!


  2. I nice refresher. I was especially intrigued by the first – possessive singular. In a story I had published a while back, the editor changed my "James's car" to "James' car". It hurt so bad.


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