Forming the possessive

The possessive form is used with nouns referring to people, groups of people, countries, and animals. It shows a relationship of belonging between one thing and another. To form the possessive, add apostrophe + s to the noun. If the noun is plural, or already ends in s, just add an apostrophe after the s.

  • the car of John = John's car
  • the room of the girls = the girls' room
  • clothes for men = men's clothes
  • the boat of the sailors = the sailors' boat

For names ending in s, you can either add an apostrophe + s, or just an apostrophe. The first option is more common. When pronouncing a possessive name, we add the sound /z/ to the end of the name.

  • Thomas's book (or Thomas' book)
  • James's shop (or James' shop)
  • the Smiths's house (or the Smiths' house)
Functions of the possessive

'Belonging to' or 'ownership' is the most common relationship the possessive expresses.

  • John owns a car. = It is John's car.
  • America has some gold reserves. = They are America's gold reserves.

The possessive can also express where someone works, studies or spends time

  • John goes to this school. = This is John's school.
  • John sleeps in this room. = This is John's room.

The possessive can express a relationship between people.

  • John's mother is running late.
  • Mrs Brown's colleague will not be coming to the meeting.

The possessive can express intangible things as well.

  • John's patience is running out.
  • The politician's hypocrisy was deeply shocking.
Fixed expressions

There are also some fixed expressions where the possessive form is used.

Examples with time
  • a day's work
  • a month's pay
  • today's newspaper
  • in a year's time
Other examples
  • For God's sake! (= exclamation of exasperation)
  • a stone's throw away (= very near)
  • at death's door (= very ill)
  • in my mind's eye (= in my imagination)

The possessive is also used to refer to shops, restaurants, churches and colleges, using the name or job title of the owner.

  • Shall we go to Luigi's for lunch?
  • I've got an appointment at the dentist's at eleven o'clock.
  • Is Saint Mary's an all-girls school?