The possessive form of the “United States” is a tricky one to figure out. It doesn’t follow any of the expected rules that some nouns might do, and it’s only present in the plural form. This article will show you how to use the “United States” correctly.
United State’s or States’ or States’s: Which Is The Correct Possessive Form?
The correct possessive form of the “United States” is the “United States’.” It is the only correct form because we can only use the plural possessive form when referring to an entity made up of multiple different “states” like the USA.
Unlike some other nouns that we’ve shared with you before, “United States” is strictly a plural form. There are no cases where “United State” is correct because “United” implies that more than one thing has been connected with another.
Using the singular “state” in the above case is incorrect. The only two options we have are:
- Noun: United States
- Possessive: United States’
Technically, the United States is a singular entity. However, it is made up of multiple states, which is why it appears plural in form. This is also the reason why it follows the standard plural possessive rules you might expect.
Let’s start by explaining the plural form (the only form) of the United States. Even though it’s a country, the United States refers to all fifty of the states that are united as one country in the North American continent.
“United States” is the plural form for the collective country. While the country itself is singular, “States” is always plural because the country is made up of fifty of them.
And because the United States is seen as a singular entity, there is no way we could ever separate them down into smaller chunks. For example:
- Correct: United States
- Incorrect: United State
If we wanted to refer to a singular state, we would simply say “State” (and usually specify which state we’re talking about).
Let’s look at how the United States might appear in a sentence:
- The United States will not back down from a deal of this magnitude.
- I’m a proud citizen of the United States, and nothing you can say will change my mind on that.
- You are not in the United States anymore, little man!
- We are part of the United States, and we hope that you can understand our reservations.
- You are from the United States, aren’t you?
- We are citizens in the United States, though that wasn’t where we were born.
The only correct possessive form is with an apostrophe after “States.” We treat it like a plural possessive noun (even though the United States is treated as a singular country).
“United States'” is the correct possessive form we should use. We include the apostrophe directly after the “S” at the end of “States.” We also do not include the usual “S” after the apostrophe that most other singular possessive nouns would rely on.
Why do we drop the “S,” then? After all, the United States should be used in the singular.
It’s because of the pronunciation of the phrase. When we use “United States'” as the plural form, we say “United States.” It’s pronounced in the same way as the singular form itself.
However, if we include the apostrophe, we’d be left with the following:
- United States’s
The end of “States” has one too many “S” letters in it, making it much harder for readers to try and pronounce.
You might benefit from some of these examples when using the possessive form:
- The United States’ government would like to personally welcome you to the country.
- The United States’ border control is getting out of hand!
- The United States’ citizens are getting restless, and we must do something to control them.
- The United States’ power over the rest of the world is getting larger by the day.
- The United States’ military control is very impressive.
- The United States’ commanding voice is all we need in this time of need.
As a quick side note, we can also use the abbreviation in the same way. The apostrophe is still present in this case:
- Noun: U.S.
- Possessive: U.S.’
“United States’s” is incorrect. We mentioned that the double “S” ending of the word is too hard for people to pronounce, which is why we leave it out. This is a common rule adopted by a lot of plural possessive forms, and it’s no different in the case of “United States.”
Here are some comparisons to help remind you:
- Correct: The United States’ welfare in this time is important to us.
- Incorrect: The United States’s proposal isn’t what we’re looking for!
- Correct: The United States’ time for action has long passed!
- Incorrect: The United States’s inaction has led me to believe they’re no longer our allies.
- Correct: The United States’ federal government is a force to be reckoned with.
- Incorrect: The United States’s distinct characteristics can be pointed out from a mile away.
Quiz: Have You Mastered United State’s or States’ or States’s?
Let’s try out a quiz to see what you’ve learned from this article. We’ll focus on the possessive forms of “United States,” so make sure you’ve been reading!
- The (A. United State’s / B. United States’ / C. United States’s) address is due to be given out soon.
- The (A. United States / B. United States’ / C. United States’s) of America are one of the most powerful countries in the world.
- The (A. United State’s / B. United States’ / C. United States’s) regulations show that you cannot get away with something like that.
- The (A. United State’s / B. United States’ / C. United States’s) borders are patrolled by armed guards.
- Are you a part of the (A. United States / B. United States’ / C. United States’s)?
The United States only has one correct possessive form. We use “United States'” with the apostrophe at the end of “States” to represent this. It may be a singular noun, but it represents a plural by the number of states inside it, so we must follow the plural possessive rules.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.