Possession Is Nine Tenths of the Grammar Rule

correcting-1870721_1920 (1)When I proofread material, I notice a common problem among writers–using an apostrophe incorrectly to show possession, or not using it at all. I can figure out what’s going on in their heads by what I see on the page. “Hmm, here’s a word that ends in ‘s.’ I remember something about using an apostrophe with an ‘s,’ so I’ll put an apostrophe here.” And so another writer is satisfied with “kinda-sorta” punctuation.

But not YOU! You want to “own” your own writing, including all the little things like apostrophes. You can “possess” all the skills you need to be considered good at your craft without memorizing a slew of grammar rules to reach that goal. I have a shortcut that can help you use apostrophes correctly, and it consists of only two items.

  • Apostrophes are used with nouns to show possession, not to indicate plurals, so never use an apostrophe to indicate multiple items.
  • Possessive pronouns can only show possession, so no apostrophe is ever used with possessive pronouns.

Let me take some time to unpack each of these items.

Knowing where to place an apostrophe gives some people trouble—is it before the “s” or after the “s”? As long as you correctly spell the noun you want to make possessive, all you have to check for is whether that noun ends in “s.” If it ends in “s,” add an apostrophe at the end. If it doesn’t end in “s,” add the apostrophe and then add an “s.”

Here are some examples:

Dog becomes dog’s (the writer is talking about one dog, and the word doesn’t end in “s,” so add the apostrophe and an “s”).


Dogs becomes dogs’ (the writer is talking about more than one dog, and the word ends in “s,” so add only the apostrophe).

Children becomes children’s (the writer is talking about more than one child, and the word doesn’t end in “s,” so add the apostrophe and an “s”).

When we want to use a possessive pronoun, the only “rule” we need to know is that possessive pronouns can only indicate possession, so an apostrophe would be redundant. Of course, the writer needs to know which words are possessive pronouns. Here are the most common possessive pronouns: My, mine, your, yours, our, ours, his, hers, its, their, theirs.

Now you possess another sure-fire way to produce clean, clear writing, without peppering your material with superfluous apostrophes. I can’t guarantee that proper punctuation will eliminate all your problems, but possession is nine-tenths of the law when it comes to apostrophes.

If you’d like to discuss this topic, contact me at https://plpubandlit.com/getintouch.