Punctuation: Possessives

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Is it Chris’s toy or Chris toy? How about a business’s problems?

General Rules for Possessive:

  • Singular Nouns: Typically, you make a singular noun possessive by adding “’s” to the end of a singular noun, even if that noun ends in “s” (e.g., James’s, the Business’s, dog’s, etc.).
  • Plural Nouns: If a plural noun ends in “s,” then simply add an apostrophe at the end of the word (Defendants’ rights); if the plural noun doesn’t end in “s,” then add “’s” to the end of the word (e.g., the men’s hiking equipment).

Special Cases:

  • Compound Nouns: Take the possessive form on the final element (e.g., my brother-in-law’s advice).
    • Related (and Commonly Confused) Topic—Compound Plurals: Some compound plurals, like solicitors general, are formed by pluralizing the first word, even though the singular possessive would be solicitor general’s. Since there is no accepted plural possessive of the phrase, you would instead need to use “of” and the genitive case to show possession (“the joint motion to dismiss of the solicitors general”).
  • Time-Related Possessives: These are used to indicate a duration or deadline. Treat them the same as regular singular or plural nouns (e.g., “a day’s notice,” “three days’ time,” “two weeks’ vacation,” “a year’s salary,” “five hours’ time”).
  • Holidays: Similar to time-related possessives, simply apply the regular rules of possessives (“New Year’s Eve,” “April Fool’s Day,” Mother’s Day”).

Possessive Pronouns:

  • Rule: Don’t use an apostrophe with any of the possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs).

And now that this possessive knowledge is yours, try out a few practice problems from BriefCatch’s question vault.

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1. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? The exchange student had a hard time adjusting to his host parents tendency to wake up at dawn within just a few minutes of each other.

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2. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? The voter’s choices were heard loud and clear when they voted overwhelmingly for the challenger.

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3. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? All views expressed here are my own and are not that of my firm or my clients’.

4 / 5

4. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? In 1738, he and his son traveled to what is now North Dakota, arriving at a Mandan village a day’s journey from the Missouri River.

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5. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? It’s time for the school to reveal its latest projections for attendance.

Your score is

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