Formation of the possessive case

Singular nouns form their possessive case by adding ‘s to the singular.

  • The boy’s dog
  • My father’s office

Only the apostrophe (‘) without s is added if the noun contains too many hissing sounds.

  • For goodness’ sake
  • For conscience’ sake
  • For Jesus’ sake
  • Moses’ laws

Plural nouns ending in -s form their possessive case by adding only an apostrophe.

  • Boys’ school
  • Girls’ hostel

Plural nouns that do not end in -s, form the possessive case by adding ‘s.

  • Children’s books
  • Women’s club

Uses of the possessive case

The possessive case is now used chiefly with the names of living things.

  • The lion’s mane
  • The minister’s bodyguards
  • The King’s palace

The possessive case is not normally used with the names of lifeless things; instead, we use a structure with of

  • The leg of the table (NOT The table’s leg)
  • The cover of the book (NOT The book’s cover)
  • The roof of the house (NOT The house’s roof)


The possessive case is often used with the names of personified objects.

  • Nature’s laws
  • Fortune’s favourites
  • At duty’s call
  • At wit’s end

The possessive case is also used with nouns denoting time, space and weight.

  • In a year’s time
  • A day’s work
  • At a stone’s throw
  • A pound’s weight

The possessive of a proper noun denoting a trade, profession or relationship can often be used to denote a building or place of business.

  • She has gone to the baker’s. (= baker’s shop)
  • Tonight we are dining at Smith’s (= Smith’s house)