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Possession (John’s car, a friend of mine)

Possessive ’s

We use apostrophe s (’s), also called possessive ’s, as a determiner to show that something belongs to someone or something:

Is that Olivia’s bag?

Britain’s coastline is very beautiful.

We can also use it in complex noun phrases (underlined):

Greg is her youngest daughter’s husband.

We can use two possessive ’s constructions in the same noun phrase:

We went to Jake’s father’s funeral.

We also use possessive ’s to talk about time and duration:

Is that yesterday’s paper?

I’ve only had one week’s holiday so far this year.

Rules for using possessive ’s

We use ’s after a singular noun and after a plural noun.

Compare

singular noun + ’s

plural noun + ’

The girl’s bedroom

(The bedroom belongs to one girl.)

The girls’ bedroom.

(The bedroom belongs to more than one girl.)

We use ’s with irregular plural nouns (e.g. children, men, people, women):

The children’s parents decided which university they would go to.

They have no respect for other people’s property.

The rules for the pronunciation of a noun with ’s are the same as the rules for pronunciation of plural forms of nouns.

Compare

noun + ’s or

plural noun

pronunciation

The cat’s dinner is in the fridge.

The cats were running around the garden.

/s/

The kids’ uncle gave them all some money.

The kids are getting impatient.

/z/

George’s brother was there.

There are three Georges in my family.

/ɪz/

When a first or second name ends in -s, we can either add or ’s. It is more common to use than ’s. When we speak, we usually pronounce the final part of the word as /zɪz/ or /sɪz/:

Is that James car? (or Is that James’s car?) (both usually pronounced /ˈdʒeɪmzɪz/)

I love Keats’ poetry. (or I love Keats’s poetry.) (both usually pronounced /ˈki:tsɪz/)

With compound nouns, we add ’s to the final noun:

My sister-in-law’s friend came with us.

Not: My sister’s-in-law friend

We don’t usually use the possessive ’s with things:

the door handle

Not: the door’s handle

the shop window

Not: the shop’s window

the kitchen table

Not: the kitchen’s table

Spoken English:

When we talk about places which are familiar to the speaker and the listener, we sometimes don’t use the noun after possessive ’s:

the hairdresser’s salon – the hairdresser’s

the doctor’s surgery – the doctor’s

We had to take our cat to the vet’s twice last month. (the same as: We had to take our cat to the vet’s clinic twice last month.)

Do you shop in Marks and Spencer’s?

We decided to go to John’s after the cinema. (the same as: We decided to go to John’s house after the cinema.)

In short answers, we can omit the noun if it is not necessary to repeat it:

A:

Is that your coat?

B:

No, it’s Sandra’s.

We use possessive ’s with words such as one, anyone, someone, anybody, somebody:

It’s important to know one’s rights as a tenant.

Is this someone’s coat here?

When we use else with these words, the ’s is added to else:

Why didn’t you come? Everyone else’s husband was there.

Warning:

The pronoun other has the same forms as nouns. We add ’s to the singular form, and we add an apostrophe after the plural -s ending in the plural form:

They took each other’s hand and started walking.

All of our luggage arrived but the others’ cases didn’t. The airline promise they will be here this evening.

Warning:

We don’t use ’s with possessive pronouns:

Is that dog yours?

Not: Is that dog your’s?

I think that car is theirs.

Not: I think that car is theirs’

We don’t use ’s with the possessive determiner its. It’s means ‘it is’:

The city is proud of its parks.

Not: The city is proud of it’s parks.

Possessives with of

Noun phrase + of + possessive pronoun

We can talk about possession using the pattern: noun phrase + of + possessive pronoun:

A friend of mine told me that all of the tickets have already sold out.

A:

Where’s Martin?

B:

He’s gone to pick up a cousin of his at the station.

Is Linda McGrath a close friend of yours?

Warning:

We use a possessive pronoun, not the object form of the pronoun:

A neighbour of mine called late last night.

Not: A neighbour of me

Noun phrase + of + possessive ’s noun phrase

We can also use the noun phrase + of pattern before a noun phrase with possessive ’s:

He’s a brother of Maria’s.

A friend of my sister’s has opened a café on Dawson Street.

She was a daughter of the President’s.

’s or of or either?

There are some general rules about when to use ’s and when to use of but there are many cases where both are possible:

The film’s hero or The hero of the film

The car’s safety record or The safety record of the car

The report’s conclusion or The conclusion of the report

Sometimes when we first mention a noun, we use of, and later when we refer to it again, we use ’s:

The mountains of Pakistan are mostly in the north. At least one hundred of them are above 7,000 metres … Most of Pakistan’s mountains are in the spectacular Karakoram range.

When we don’t use ’s

We don’t use ’s when the noun is not a person, animal, country, organisation, etc., or when the noun phrase is very long:

The name of the ship was ‘Wonder Queen’. (preferred to The ship’s name was ‘Wonder Queen’.)

The house of the oldest woman in the village. (preferred to The oldest woman in the village’s house.)

When we don’t use of

When we are talking about things that belong to us, relationships and characteristics of people, animals, countries, categories, groups or organisations made up of people, we usually use ’s:

The men’s dressing room is on the left at the end of the corridor.

Not: The dressing room of the men

The cat’s paw was badly cut.

Not: The paw of the cat

Possession: typical errors

  • We don’t use ’s with plural nouns:

It’s my responsibility to deal with customers’ complaints.

Not: … to deal with customer’s complaints.

  • The possessive determiner its has no apostrophe:

We bought this car because we liked its colour.

Not: … because we liked it’s colour.

  • We don’t use ’s to make nouns plural. When we want to show that something is plural, we add -s without an apostrophe:

They had to rebuild the roads after the earthquake.

Not: They had to rebuild the road’s

(“Possession ( John’s car, a friend of mine )” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)

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