Using the possessive form in English is usually fairly straight-forward: You add an apostrophe and s to the end of the word and it becomes possessive. A cat that belongs to Hannah becomes “Hannah’s cat,” or a president in America becomes “America’s president.” However, many people get stuck when the word they’re trying to make possessive already ends in “s”. To go over this verbal phenomenon, we’re going to use the example of the name “James,” and thoroughly explore the possessive form so you never have to be confused again. Is it James’ or James’s?
James’ or James’s? Which Answer is Correct?
James’ vs James’s, which answer is correct? The short answer is: Both are correct. There is no right way to use one compared the other, and both are in common use. The reason there is confusion surrounding the possessive form of names that end in “s” is that both are only correct when used on a proper name. In all other instances you must use the apostrophe only, not “‘s.” So in order to use this grammar trick properly we must first ask ourselves: What is a “proper name”?
Possessive Forms for Proper Names
Proper names are a term we use for people and places, as well as businesses. They’re the name you would capitalize in a sentence. The name of a country would be a proper name, as well as the name of a restaurant. Your own name is also a proper name.
- This is Hannah’s orange cat. Hannah is the proper name of a person in this sentence.
- These people are Megashops employees. Megashops is the proper name of a business in this sentence.
- I have never traveled to Paris. Paris is the proper name of a place in this sentence.
When using the possessive form on a proper name that ends in s, you can use either “‘” or “‘s.” Below we will rewrite those same examples but with proper names that end in s.
- This is James’s orange cat. Or, this is James’ orange cat.
- I like Megashops’s customer service. Or, I like Megashops’ customer service.
- I’ve heard good thing about Paris’s food. Or, I’ve heard good things about Paris’ food.
Each of the examples is correct in both forms.
Possessive Forms of Nouns
The rules change when writing the possessive form of a noun that is not a proper name. A noun is a person, place or a thing, so it describes most of the vocabulary you face day to day. These vocabulary words can also end in “s”, just like the proper name “James” does. However, when you add the possessive form to a noun, unlike “James”, you must only add the apostrophe and not the s.
- The cats are hungry. Where do we keep the cats’ food?
- The students are angry. The students’ homework was too hard.
- My children are twins. The twins’ bed time is 8pm.
When a noun ends in s and it is not a proper name, it should always end in an apostrophe when given its possessive form.
Exceptions to Watch Out For
Every rule in language has exceptions, and this one is no different. Some proper names are treated as a singular noun but use a plural form, like the United States, the United Nations or the Virgin Islands. When using the names of these places we treat them as a singular entity, but when conjugating them into the possessive form we treat them as a plural noun. As such, the “‘s” ending is never used, and instead we simply add an apostrophe.
- The United States’ president is an important person.
- The United Nations’ new rules are coming into effect soon.
- The Virgin Islands’ people are very friendly.
We’ve come a long way from simply asking ourselves whether to use James’ or James’s, but English is a language that evolved over time and grew complicated along the way. There are rules you can follow for whether to use an apostrophe or a “‘s” ending, but when all else fails you can also remember that a simple apostrophe is never wrong. Whenever you can use “‘s,” using just the apostrophe is also correct, so it’s a great option to fall back on when you’re not sure.
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