Possessive Case

Forming the Possessive Case

Knowing your possessive case
Picture speaks better: Knowing your possessive case

The Possessive case (or also known as Genitive case) is that form in which a noun is used in order to indicate that something belongs to the person or thing for which it stands.

In English the possessive case is not only used to indicate belongings or possessions but it’s also used in other ways to indicate various relations between the noun marked for possession and the noun that follows:

ConstructionIndication
daddy's pet, the president's adviserpossession or belonging
the tide's ebbing, Army's presentationsubject of action
the company's lawyer, the hero's betrayalobject of an action
learner's dictionary, a women's collegedescription or type
Gretchen's kindness, the hero's braveryattribute
Beethoven's symphonies, grandmother's letterorigin
a day's journey, an arm's length measurement, amount
A Practical Example:
  • I borrowed Gretchen’s piano

In the sentence “I borrowed Gretchen’s piano,” the noun Gretchen’s is in the possessive case, to indicate that Gretchen possesses something (namely, a piano). Therefore, Gretchen’s, is the possessive case of the noun Gretchen.

The noun in the possessive case is said to be governed by the noun which stands for the property which is possessed. In the example above, the noun Gretchen’s is governed by the noun piano.

As what is possessed must be a person or a thing of some kind, a noun in the possessive case can only be governed by a noun.

The meaning of the possessive case is sometimes expressed by means of the preposition of, with the objective case after it. For example, for “Gretchen’s book,” we may say, “The book of Gretchen.” However, the possessive case must not be substituted for the preposition of, unless possession is implied by it.

How to form the Possessive Case

The following articles concern the basic guidelines for forming the possessive case in English.

An apostrophe is used to mark the possessive case of nouns; which is usually formed in the singular number by adding to the nominative an –s with an apostrophe (’) before it, as in:

Examples include:

one’s home, by day’s end, John’s pet, the witness’s testimony, a fox’s habitat, the knife’s edge, etc.

The possessive case of a plural noun ending in –s is formed by adding just an apostrophe mark (’):

Examples include:

the doctors’ recommendations, the glasses’ rims, the flies’ buzzing noises, boys’ school, girls’ squad, horses’ tails, etc.

However, when the noun is in plural, but does not end in –s the possessive is formed by adding ’s as in: men’s club, children’s books, etc.

The possessive case of most proper nouns Opens in new window is formed according to the rules for common nouns:

Compare the following:

Singular

doctor's office, Yeats's poetry, Maxwell's biography

Plural

the McCarthys’ and the Williamses’ parties, the Schwartzes’ trip.

By convention, certain proper nouns ending in s form the possessive by adding just the apostrophe since adding –’s would make the pronunciation difficult or awkward:

Jesus’ teachings, Moses’ children, Achilles’ heel, Hercules’ strength, Ramses’ reign, Xerxes’ conquest.

In certain cases, whereby two or more people or things jointly possess something, the conventional practice is to add the –’s or apostrophe to the last element only, as in: Gift and Vick’s savings.

But when two or more people or things possess something separately, we usually add the –’s or apostrophe to each element, as in: the Smiths’ and the Joneses’ houses are for sale.

The possessive case of pronouns is formed without an apostrophe:

SingularPlural
MineOurs
YoursYours
HisTheirs
HersTheirs
ItsTheirs
WhoseWhose