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.
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
- 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?