What Are Possessive Nouns?-We Can Answer That!

This is our third instalment regarding nouns. This post is about possessive nouns. As a lifelong learner who recently completed courses in business English, I can assure you that proper grammar can take you far in the business world. Communication is a daily necessity that is of incredible importance in business. So let us move onward and upward.

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Help!-What Are Possessive Nouns?

As per the article, Forming the Possessive, from ef.com “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.”

According to Canadian Business English (2017), there are five ways to use the apostrophe correctly when showing possession. They are:

  1. Possessive construction- two nouns are together and the first shows ownership of or a relationship to the second noun. For example; the man’s calculator, or both doctors’ bags.
  2. Reverse the nouns- take the second noun to start a prepositional phrase. Therefore the ownership word is the object of the preposition. For example; calculator of the man, or bags of both doctors.
  3. Examine the ownership word-as mentioned above, for the correct placement of the apostrophe you need to know if the ownership word is singular or plural.
  4. If the ownership word is singular you will add an apostrophe and s. For example; a witness’s testimony, or a month’s rent.
  5. If the ownership word is plural you will have two choices:
  • If the noun ends in s you will only add an apostrophe. For example; both doctors’ bags, or many investors’ portfolios.
  • If the ownership word is plural but doesn’t end with s, add an apostrophe and s. For example; the children’s rooms, or men’s magazines.

Did you think we were done with possessives? We are not. There is more to know.

Understanding the Possessive Constructions

  1. Descriptive versus possessive nouns- when nouns provide description only, the possessive is not used. For example; Claims Office, the electronics industry, or the Human Resources Department.
  2. Compound nouns- make the compound nouns possessive by adding an apostrophe or apostrophe s to the end of the compound word. For example; mother-in-law’s house, or notary public’s signature.
  3. Incomplete possessives- if the second noun in a possessive noun construction is not used, the first noun is nevertheless possessive. For example; We will meet at Stephen’s [home] after the movie. This year’s revenues are lower than last year’s [revenues].
  4. Separate or combined ownership- if two nouns express separate ownership, make both possessive. If two nouns express combined ownership, make only the second noun possessive. For example; the landlord’s and tenant’s rights, or the husband and wife’s business.
  5. Names of organizations- When the name of an organization or business includes an apostrophe or should include an apostrophe, you cannot change their name, even if the name creates what looks like a grammatical error. For example; Domino’s Pizza, or Tim Hortons. Always check their letterhead or website to make sure you have the spelling correct.
  6. Abbreviations-to make abbreviations possessive you need to follow the same guidelines as those used for nouns. For example; the CBC’s coverage, or the CMA’s new ruling.
  7. Awkward possessives- these occur when the addition of an apostrophe makes the possessive look awkward. When this occurs you should use a prepositional phrase instead. For example; “my brothers-in-law’s opinions” becomes “the opinions of my brothers-in-law.” OR “Do you have your neighbour’s doctor’s telephone number?” rather write it as ” Do you have the telephone number of your neighbour’s doctor?” See, they have a much clearer meaning.

Another way to look at the awkward possessives is to use an “of phrase” starting with the object owned. For example; You would say, “The advice of my sister’s lawyer.” not, ” My sister’s lawyer’s advice.”

We hope this post will help you to remember the rules when using possessive nouns. Let us know if it does, or if you have any further advice to share.

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