Learn English Grammar

Learn English Grammar

There are different ways to show ownership of something. To show possession you can use nouns to modify other nouns.

(For purposes of clarity, we distinguish between the genitive case and the possessive case here.)

The good news is that the genitive case "of" is used less and less in English today. Hooray!

Possessive Case

The possessive case is used to show ownership. The possessive pattern or mark ('s) is generally used when indicating a relation of ownership or association with a person, rather than a thing. (Linguistically speaking it is a form of genitive case.)

Singular nouns take -'s.

For example:-

  • Bob's presentation.
  • Lynne's web site kept growing larger and larger.

There are, as ever, exceptions to this rule. When a group of people is involved or animals.

For example:-

  • The members' forum.
  • The dogs' tails.

Companies are often treated like people.

For example:-

  • Coca Cola's latest advertising campaign.

Irregular plural nouns that don't end in s take -'s.

For example:-

  • The children's toys.
  • The people's court.

Plural nouns that end in " s " take an apostrophe at the end ( ' ).

For example:-

  • The girls' dresses.

People's names that end in "s" you can write (') at the end, or add ('s).

For example:-

  • Charles' job was on the line.

or

  • Charles's job was on the line.

Try to avoid sounding like hissing Sid though. When an added - s would lead to three closely bunched s or z sounds just use an apostrophe at the end.

  • The map of Ulysses' journey.

If you have to show joint ownership, give the possessive form to the final name only.

Pronouns and determiners are inflected to show the possessive / genitive case.

Personal Pronoun/Determiner

Lynne's
Lynne's
My
Mine
Your
Yours
His
His
Her
Hers
Its
Its
Our
Ours
Their
Theirs
Whose
Whose

For example:-

  • This is Lynne's web site. It's my website! It's mine!
  • It's not Zozanga's web site. It's not his website! It's not his!
  • Have you seen her book? It's her book. It's hers.

Genitive Case

You should still use the "of" form of the possessive / genitive case when talking about things that belong to other things.

For example:-

  • The door of the car. You can also say, "the car door".
  • The top speed of the car is 1000 km/hr. You might also hear, "the car's top speed" in advertising, because they like to humanise things.
  • The content of the website. You can also say, "the website content", or "the website's content".
  • Go to the top of the page.

You may still hear someone say something like "The father of the bride," but it could equally be; "The bride's father."

In other instances the "of" form never changes: "The House of Lords." This example is not the possessive, but it is genitive.

!Tip - If you are talking about things, but aren't sure what to use stick to (of the).

The biggest issue English learners have with the "genetive case" is that it's not always used to show possession. It can be used to show a relationship between things.

As with possessives generally, the term 'genitive' should not be identified too closely with ideas of ownership or actual possession or belonging. The genitive case signals a structural grammatical relationship between a noun and a noun phrase, and the actual relationship between the things referred to by the nouns may simply be some kind of loose association." (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Which is why we prefer to use the term possessive case to show possession.

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