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Posts Tagged ‘possessive nouns’

It’s versus Its

The English language has many exceptions to seemingly hard and fast rules, and these exceptions often cause problems for the novice writer. One such issue is the possessive form of the pronoun “it.” First, let’s remind ourselves of what a possessive form is. The possessive form of a noun or pronoun is used to show ownership. When writing the possessive form of almost all other singular nouns, the writer is instructed to add an apostrophe followed by an “s” at the end of the word. Examples include “the duck’s quack,” “the girl’s doll,” and “the man’s son.” Simple, right?

Therefore, you might think that you should simply tack on the requisite apostrophe and “s” to “it” in order to create the possessive form. However, this makes the word “it’s,” which is seen in the English language as the contraction for “it is.” An example of the proper use of the word “it’s” is as follows: “It’s by the cat’s water bowl.” Therefore, we cannot treat the possessive form of “it” in the same way that we treat other singular nouns. For “it,” we simply forgo the apostrophe. In other words, the possessive form of “it” is “its.” An example of the proper use of the possessive form of “it” is “The cat stepped in its water bowl.”

Forming Possessives

Possessives are used to indicate ownership. The possessive forms of nouns indicate that something (the second of two nouns) belongs to (is possessed by) the noun in question.

For singular nouns (e.g. dog, girl, book) possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe and then an “s”, as in:

  • The dog’s owner was away on vacation.
  • We don’t know the girl’s name.
  • The book’s chapters are all very interesting.

The possessive forms of plural nouns are formed in one of two ways. When the plural of the noun in question ends in “s” (e.g. dogs, girls, books), possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe after the “s”. No additional “s” is necessary. For example:

  • The dogs’ owners were away on vacation.
  • We don’t know the girls’ names.
  • The books’ covers were difficult to tell apart.

When the plural of the noun in question does not end in “s” (e.g. children, women, people), possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe and then an “s”. For example:

  • The children’s department features a variety of styles.
  • Susan enrolled in the Women’s Studies Department.
  • People’s thoughts are often not aligned with their actions.

When more than one noun possesses the same item (e.g. two people own a car together), only the second noun takes the possessive form, as in:

  • The point of Ackerman and Tolson’s study was to highlight deficiencies in the literature.
  • Jared and Claire’s dog looks like a mixed breed.
  • I think Sue and Jim’s car would look better in blue.

However, when two or more nouns have possession of different forms of the same item, all nouns take the possessive, as in:

  • The women’s, men’s, and children’s departments are on different floors.
  • Sarah’s and Tiffany’s grades are vastly different.

Note that possessive adjectives (e.g. yours, ours, theirs, hers) need no apostrophe:

  • This is yours?
  • Ours were excellent seats.
  • I thought it was theirs, but I wanted to be sure.
  • When you bring hers, please also bring mine.