Grammar Apostrophes and False Possessives |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Apostrophes and False Possessives

In English, nouns become adjectives all the time: a computer’s malfunction is also called a computer malfunction. One of Shakespeare’s plays is a Shakespeare play.

Consider the sentence Beverly Hills’ weather is mild. Like computer’s and Shakespeare’s in the previous paragraph, Beverly Hills’ is a possessive noun. But we could turn it into an adjective by removing the apostrophe: Beverly Hills weather is mild. Same with Abe Jones’s campaign is picking up steam—we could also say The Abe Jones campaign is picking up steam.

Few would argue with the apostrophe in The Beatles’ place in pop music history is assured. But how would you write this sentence: There are still countless Beatles/Beatles’ fans out there. Although many would choose Beatles’ fans, it should be Beatles fans—no apostrophe—because the sentence has turned Beatles into an adjective modifying fans rather than a possessive noun.

There are times when the distinction is trivial. There is no significant difference between General Motors cars are selling and General Motors’ cars are selling. But if you were to write We visited the General Motors’ plant in Wentzville, you’d be using a possessive noun where only an adjective should go.

Notice that the four examples above involve the nouns Hills, Jones, Beatles, and Motors. Nouns ending in s can tempt rushed or distracted writers to add a possessive apostrophe for no good reason. Many writers, including most journalists, add only an apostrophe to show possession when a proper noun ends in s. On a bad day, this can result in silly phrases like a Texas’ barbecue joint, a Sally Hawkins’ movie, or even the St. Regis’ Hotel, in which the apostrophes are indefensible.

Those who write such things would never dream of writing a Chicago’s barbecue joint, a George Clooney’s movie, or the Fairmont’s Hotel.

So whenever writers are of a mind to add a possessive apostrophe to a noun ending in s, they might first try swapping that word with one that ends in a different letter. If the result is nonsense, they’ll have ample time to revise the sentence and save themselves some embarrassment.


Pop Quiz
Mend any sentences that need fixing.

1. Julie Andrews singing in My Fair Lady was some of her best work.
2. She is a fanatical Rolling Stones’ fan.
3. Nigel takes a Thomas Hobbes’ approach to life.
4. Yolanda Adams music is infectious.
5. It was a Black Keys’ performance for the ages.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. Julie Andrews’s singing in My Fair Lady was some of her best work. (some would write Andrews’)
2. She is a fanatical Rolling Stones fan.
3. Nigel takes a Thomas Hobbes approach to life.
4. “Yolanda Adams music,” “Yolanda Adams’s music,” and “Yolanda Adams’ music” would all be acceptable.
5. It was a Black Keys performance for the ages.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

82 responses to “Apostrophes and False Possessives”

  1. Aaron says:

    Just a quick note: Julie Andrews, while a first rate singer, was not in “My Fair Lady.” That distinction goes to Audrey Hepburn.
    Thank you for addressing the issue of the ever-problematic apostrophe in English grammar.

  2. Jeanette S. says:

    Please will you tell me whether or not I need to use the possessive apostrophe in the word children’s here: Barry’s children’s book is called Humpty Dumpty. I mean if it’s Barry’s book.

  3. Darlene I. says:

    A title of one of our educational programs is: Farmers Market Managers Conference. I cannot determine how to punctuate this title. Can you help? Thank you!

    • More information about this topic can be found in our blog Confusing Possessives. The line between a possessive or genitive form and a noun used attributively is sometimes fuzzy. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using an apostrophe in the term “farmers’ market,” although it acknowledges that terms similar to this sometimes appear without one. The word managers can be considered either a possessive noun (Managers’) or an adjective describing the conference (Managers).

  4. M.Azmy says:

    Is it a must to use apostrophe in ” this week’s timetable” or can I say ” this week timetable ” ?? thank you in a advance

  5. Sharon Ellis says:

    Please tell me how to punctuate the name of our organization-McKinney Area Newcomers Club.

    • The line between a possessive or genitive form and a noun used attributively—to modify another noun—is sometimes fuzzy, especially in the plural. Since you have a club belonging to the newcomers, you could write McKinney Area Newcomers’ Club. However, some writers prefer to use the word newcomers as an adjective describing the word group and omit the apostrophe.

  6. Daniel Knepshield says:

    I can’t find a satisfactory answer to this question: When referring to the fans of a sports teams, why is an apostrophe not used after the team’s name? For example, if I am a fan of the Cleveland Browns, why is it correct to write “Browns fan” instead of “Browns’ fan”? Since I am a fan of their team, i.e., one of their fans, shouldn’t their be an apostrophe to show possession?

    • In your example, the word Browns is being used as an adjective to describe the word fans. Since the team does not own or possess the fans, an apostrophe is incorrect.

  7. Judy says:

    I have two questions. Do I need an apostrophe in the following sentences:

    We now stock Skechers’ casual slip-ons in our shop.

    The Ladies’ Golf Association will meet tomorrow.

    Thank you!

    • There is no reason to use an apostrophe after the brand name Skechers. Regarding the second sentence, we recommend that you find out how the golf association spells its formal name.

  8. Priya says:

    My problem is related to the usage of ‘of’ as a possessive and replacing it with an apostrophe. Do take a look at this clause: gas’s contribution in the energy mix. Is the usage of the apostrophe correct here? Or should it be ‘contribution of gas’?

  9. Vicki says:

    Thank-you for your very clear explanations on this site. Are you able to clarify something which you do address but is still confusing me for my example.

    I understand that noun derived adjectives ending in s don’t require an apostrophe and also that, while rare, possessive adjectives do require apostrophes. Rule 7 refers to time and money as possessive adjectives and indicates that “three days’ leave” is correct.

    How do I distinguish if something is a possessive adjective or a noun derived adjective? For example:

    Average days vacant or 7 days tenant arrears

    I am confused because these examples seem to be noun derived adjectives but because they involve time I am not sure…

    Thanks so much – can’t wait to get my first newsletter!

    • When trying to determine whether an apostrophe is necessary, we look at how a word is used in a complete sentence. We would need to see your examples used in complete sentences to make a determination.

      • Vicki says:

        Thank-you for the reply to my question above. The examples I gave ‘Average days vacant’ or ‘7 days tenant arrears’ were used in the text in exactly that way ie not part of a longer sentence. They were used as titles or headings I guess, to explain statistics for a real estate agency.

        Hope that helps as this is really bugging me!

        • We see no reason to use apostrophes. However, without a complete sentence it is impossible to know if they are being used as compound adjectives or what they refer to.

  10. Gaylene says:

    Please settle a dispute we’re having with the following portion of a sentence – “it became a necessity in order to pursue education beyond the village schools privileges of higher social status”. I believe schools should be possessive, but my father-in-law feels it should be a compound adjective. Is either correct? It seems to me that it’s the privileges of the schools, therefore possessive, not village schools describing privileges. Your input would be very helpful.

    • We agree that the possessive noun schools’ would be a better choice in your sentence. However, in our opinion, this turbid sentence is a lost cause. A rewrite is strongly advised.

      • Gaylene says:

        “The Canadians were determined to take the less logical, less economic direction.” The writer wishes to hyphenate them; this doesn’t seem right to me, but perhaps I’m incorrect. I once again look forward to your input.

        • “Less logical” and “less economic” are compound comparative adjectives, but in English they need not be hyphenated unless they present an ambiguity, as in this example: Wilson wrote several more interesting books in the 1950s. This unfortunate sentence should either be rewritten as Wilson wrote several more books in the 1950s that also were interesting OR Wilson wrote several more-interesting books in the 1950s.

  11. Lynn says:

    The idea of false possessives makes sense to me based on what you said, but I am still confused about labels on places. On the locker room door, would you place a sign that said Men’s Locker Room – because the men posses it, or would you simply have a sign that said Mens Locker Room – using men as an adjective? How about sports teams? Would it be the Girls’ Hockey Team (ownership) or Girls Hockey Team (girls as an adjective? I am teaching my students about adjectives and want to be able to explain this to them. I will use what you have posted, but can you also answer my questions so that I am sure of my defense of what I am teaching them. In the sentence, Dad’s cooking skills are quite amazing, is Dad’s an adjective or a possessive noun? I feel like the sentence should not be in possessive form and that it should just state Dads cooking skills are quite amazing – and then dads would be an adjective. Please help. Thanks.

    • Men is already plural, so Men’s can only be possessive. There is no right or wrong answer for Girls’ Hockey Team or Girls Hockey Team. Dad’s is a possessive noun since you are describing the cooking skills of one dad.

  12. pam wenger says:

    I need to write the following on an invitation: Is this the correct placement of the apostrophe, or is it only on Grandfather?Please tell me the correct punctuation on:
    Kristina’s Grandfather’s House…

    • Your apostrophes are fine. In formal prose the words grandfather’s and house would not be capitalized; however, invitations often have their own sets of rules and styles and are not always the same as formal writing.

  13. Vivian says:

    I can’t understand why is the sentence
    I like that Beatles song. Correct rather than I like that Beatles’ song? Please help

    • As discussed in the third paragraph, it should be Beatles song “because the sentence has turned Beatles into an adjective modifying [song] rather than a possessive noun.”

  14. Amy says:

    The new movie “Girls Trip” looks to me to need to be written as “Girls’ Trip.” Possessive adjective. Thoughts? I want to drive all around town and fix the billboards!

    • says:

      We agree with you. Please see our post Confessions of a Guerrilla Grammarian.

      • Rault Kehlor says:

        Depending on context, I think this is similar to your argument (in another post) with the example of “Girls Tennis” etc. This is a type of trip – a trip for a group of only girls, like a division of tennis competition for girls. So, I’d argue that it’s “Girls Trip”. As in, “After not seeing each other for over a year, the former roommates decided it was high time for a girls trip.”

        Of course, I agree it would be correct in the context of “After a week of solid rain, one could say the girls’ trip was a bust” if it’s just showing possessive.

        • Both “Girls Trip” and “Girls’ Trip” can be grammatically correct. As your examples illustrate, the context can often help inform which form we would use.

          For a movie title, one might also note a possible marketing consideration. “Girls Trip” probably makes better copy on billboards and in ads and listings than might “Girls’ Trip,” which, even if subliminally, might be received as more academic than fun and playful.

  15. Shee says:

    Should these sentences take apostrophes for possession or they are fine as they are?

    1. There was so much creativity in the Beatles universe.

    2. They decided to release the last Beatles single.

    3. These photos were taken during that Beatles tour.

    • As discussed in the third paragraph of the article, the sentences are fine because the sentences have turned Beatles into an adjective rather than a possessive noun.

  16. Rebecca says:

    I can’t find the name of this type of usage, I hope you can help. It’s a pet peeve and I see it in books all the time. A sample sentence is: “We were able to steal the key without Sir William’s noticing.” It seems that the possessive apostrophe isn’t needed at all. I come across this type of sentence once or twice in a book with certain authors and it drives me nuts.

    • Our post What is a Gerund and Why Care states, “It is helpful to recognize gerunds because if a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund, it is usually best to use the possessive form of that noun or pronoun.” Therefore, we recommend using the possessive noun “Sir William’s” before the gerund noticing.

  17. claudia ballard says:

    Which way is correct?

    Students’ pen and ink drawings, Student’s pen and ink drawings, or students pen and ink drawings? when there are more than one student who has pen and ink drawings.

    thank you

    • If you are referring to the drawings of more than one student, you need to use a plural possessive. This is formed placing the apostrophe after the s. Write “students’ pen and ink drawings.” See our rules for Apostrophes for more information.

  18. Daryl says:

    In the following sentence: The domestic cat’s eyes were green. Is domestic an adverb describing cat’s (an adjective) or an adjective describing the cat (noun)?

    • In your example, “domestic cat” is a noun phrase with an adjective (domestic) describing a noun (cat). “Eyes” is a stand-alone noun. The initial noun phrase becomes possessive to modify the following noun. A similar example would be “the young boy’s shoes.” “Young boy” is a noun phrase made possessive to describe to whom the shoes belong.

  19. Catarina Pina Gonçalves says:

    Thank you for your explanation. After years seeing English speakers misusing the apostrophe in this way (adjective vs. possessive), I really needed confirmation.

  20. K Kline says:

    “As seen in this mornings Daily Gazette” or “As seen in this morning’s Daily Gazette”? I’m thinking “this mornings” is an adjective phrase describing which printing of the “Daily Gazette,” not that the “Daily Gazette” belongs to the morning. But I’d think the opposite if it were “this morning’s news.”
    I’m thinking I’d read somewhere that an adjective phrase beginning with “this” rarely requires an apostrophe, but there was no explanation of what those rare occasions would be.

  21. Dwayne Ansell says:

    Thank you for this page. It’s very informative.

    Can you please clarify the following for me? Clearly, “sports” in “sports fans” is not possessive and is simply an attributive noun, but is it firm that “fans” should always be possessive as in “fan’s” for the following…

    A sports fan’s guide to…

    Can it be argued that “fans” can also be considered an attributive noun in the above case?

    • The word fans can be an attributive noun in the example you identify. A sports fan’s guide, a sports fans’ guide, and a sports fans guide would all be acceptable according to the writer’s intent, the latter two in reference to fans in plural. Of the three, sports fans guide would probably be the least common usage.

  22. Diane Scott says:

    My confusion is with sports teams and possessive apostrophes. The Hurricanes bus would seem correct.
    The Senators ice, but the Rangers fans confuses me as the team doesn’t own the fans.
    Could you clarify?

    • Either the plural possessive (Hurricanes’ bus, Senators’ ice) or the team name used as an adjective to describe the noun (Hurricanes bus, Senators ice) is acceptable. When referring to the fans, the team name is being used as an adjective to describe the word fans. Since the team does not own or possess the fans, an apostrophe is not used.

  23. Tiffany says:

    Can you please explain (or tell me where I could learn more) about #4 in the pop quiz: “ ‘Yolanda Adams music,’ ‘Yolanda Adams’s music,’ and ‘Yolanda Adams’ music’ would all be acceptable”? Why are all three versions acceptable? Thanks!

  24. Chess says:

    A Fox news article says this:

    Shocking allegations about Matt Lauer reportedly revealed in an upcoming book by Ronan Farrow drew a sharp and somber reaction from the disgraced anchor’s former colleagues on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday.

    Question: Couldn’t that sentence be misunderstood to think of the “colleagues” as being “disgraced?” In “chilly Presidents’ Day”, it’s the day that is chilly. In “my rotten grandfather’s wife” — who is rotten? Is that a poor comparison? Perhaps it would have been clearer to say “the former colleagues of the disgraced anchor.”

    • We doubt that many people would be confused as to who’s disgraced, but some just might be. Careful writers will typically keep related elements as close as possible. In this case, adjectives should be positioned near or next to (and usually before) the nouns they describe. Consider the very different meanings in the pairs:

      the disgraced anchor’s former colleagues
      the anchor’s disgraced former colleagues

      my rotten grandfather’s wife
      my grandfather’s rotten wife

      If a writer or an editor were to still have concerns about clarity and wish to leave no doubt, we could recast the phrase as “the former colleagues of the disgraced anchor.” Wordier, yes—but lesser risk of misinterpretation.

  25. Jennie Harborth says:

    Can anybody verify that “thirties” should have no apostrophe, and why:

    Daiken and Sayers, as Jews on the left in thirties Ireland…

    I feel that “thirties” is an adjective while a friend believes it’s a possessive.

    Thank you.

    • Thirties could be considered an adjective describing the proper noun Ireland. “In thirties Ireland” could also be a shorthand way of writing “in the thirties in Ireland,” in which case thirties is a noun.

  26. Clancy says:

    In the sentence “The children are completing their maths goals today,” I’m assuming that the word “maths” makes it an adjectival phrase; therefore, it wouldn’t require a possessive apostrophe. Is this correct?

    • Both math and maths are short for the word mathematics. Math is the preferred term in the United States and Canada. Maths is the preferred term in Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. The word maths (math) is not an adjective in this context, but rather half of the compound noun maths goals. No apostrophe is needed.

  27. Dollydoodars says:

    Please can you settle an argument? Is it correct to write “… ahead of the students’ return to school”? My colleague says it should be “… ahead of the students return to school.” I’d be really grateful.

    • says:

      Since you are referring to the return of the students, use the plural possessive “students’ return.”

  28. Nicola says:

    Can you please confirm the rule for noun descriptions about time? For example: Six months time, three months wages. I thought it was correct to add an apostrophe after “months” in both cases. Eg Six months’ time, three months’ wages. Or is that wrong because these are considered descriptive and not possessive? Thank you!

    • says:

      We recommend using the apostrophe for your time expressions.
      six months’ time
      three months’ wages

  29. Josh Vecchiolla says:

    I’m trying to clear the air with the proper spelling of my company Fuzzies. Fuzzies is a burger concept based on the feeling of warm fuzzies. Many times under our logo it will however say Fuzzies Burgers. To me, this seems to be a similar case with General Motors (GM). Whenever researching this company, the name never contains an apostrophe, for example- General Motors Company, General Motors Stock, etc. It seems like it wouldn’t make much sense for my company’s logo or name to change in spelling based on different logo variations when it is primarily a text-centric logo. Thoughts?

    • says:

      Since the name does not represent a possessive proper noun such as McDonald’s or Denny’s, an apostrophe is not necessary.

  30. EC says:

    Would you clarify the rule on possessives and apostrophes when it comes to an organization’s name, if it belongs to a specific place?

    For example:
    -Why Northern Virginia Community College? instead of “Northern Virginia’s Community College”?

    -Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or Northern Virginia’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce?
    – When using an abbreviation: NOVAHCC’s “Jive after 5” is an upcoming “in person” networking event that will be held next Saturday, etcetera….
    How would the non abbreviated form be correct?
    Northern Virginia’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce “Jive after 5” is an upcoming “in person” networking event that will be held next Saturday???
    Thanks for the input!

    • says:

      The name of an organization is a singular proper noun; therefore, follow our Rules for Apostrophes that apply to singular nouns. We recommend using the official name of the organization. Therefore, we see no reason to use ‘s in writing “Northern Virginia Community College” or “Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce” unless you are writing a sentence such as “Northern Virginia Community College’s annual fundraiser starts next week.”

      Because “Northern Virginia” is part of the proper name “Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” you would not use the possessive “Northern Virginia’s” in formal writing.

  31. MsJM says:

    Is it
    The United Nations fundamental Human Rights or
    The United Nations’ fundamental Human Rights?
    Thanks so much!

    • says:

      If you are using “United Nations” as an adjective to describe “fundamental human rights,” no apostrophe is required. If you are referring to the fundamental human rights of the United Nations, use the apostrophe. Unless it is part of a formal title such as “United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” we see no reason to capitalize “human rights.”

  32. KJ says:

    If you are writing “Your mathematics goals are important to have,” does the word mathematics require a possessive apostrophe? If it doesn’t, can you please explain why? Thank you.

    • says:

      No apostrophe is necessary. The word mathematics is an adjective describing the noun goals. There is no possession or ownership to warrant using an apostrophe.

  33. RG says:

    I have just discovered your site and am a new fan! Hoping you can help me with this issue. I’m creating a guide called “The Student’s Guide to Quality.” I tend to think the apostrophe is needed as I’ve used it there. But others are telling me that, no, it should be The Students’ Guide to Quality. Which is correct? Or is it appropriate to leave out the apostrophe completely? Many thanks!

    • says:

      Since you are referring to a guide for all students, the plural possessive “Students’ Guide” is correct (Rule 2 of Apostophes). However, others might use “students” as a descriptive adjective rather than as a possessive adjective to modify “guide.” No apostrophe is required in that case. In other words, you would be correct either way depending on your preference.

  34. Laurel Reinking says:

    I had determined that the possessive was not appropriate in the following sentence: “This study intends to address these gaps by evaluating the effectiveness of professional development on teachers’ implementation of dialogic reading strategies.” of professional development on teachers’ implementation of dialogic reading strategies.” Then I came across this sentence: “The PI will provide feedback on each teacher’s implementation of the dialogic reading strategies.” I have been under the assumption that if “by” could be substituted instead of the “fake” possessive (for example, “implementation BY teachers of dialogic reading strategies,” the apostrophe would not be used because teachers do not possess the implementation. However, when I came to the singular “fake” possessive, I could not think how to revise using the same syntax as that I used in the plural “fake” possessive. I see how I can revise the phrase to create no ambiguity, but I cannot get a handle on the syntax of the problem phrases. In other words, for the first phrase I could write “On the dialogic reading strategies implemented by teachers . . . ” Please help. Thanks.

    • says:

      We see nothing grammatically incorrect in either “the effectiveness of professional development on teachers’ implementation of dialogic reading strategies” or “feedback on each teacher’s implementation of the dialogic reading strategies.” In other words, we do not see ambiguity or inaccuracy of possession.

  35. KAC says:

    We are about to market a music concert which involves our senior school and involves our junior school. A joint concert. The flyer should read: “The Combined Schools’ Concert” or “The Combined Schools Concert.” I’m guessing the former…?

  36. Anthon Gierran says:

    I was confused about the two below. Which is Christ’s Church? or Which is Christ Church?

    • says:

      The distinction lies between the proper name of a church and a wider context of inclusion.
      We attend Christ Church in Smallville, USA.
      All of those who believe and have faith are members of Christ’s church.

  37. John V says:

    I get stuck on sports teams and whether they’re adjectives or possessives. “Bryce Harper, the Phillies’ starting right fielder,…” seems correct with Phillies as a possessive, but “Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper” seems correct with Phillies as an adjective. And is it “the Phillies’ dugout” or “the Phillies dugout”? “The Eagles’ defense” or “The Eagles defense”? It seems I could replace “The Eagles” with either “The Philadelphia defense” or “Philadelphia’s defense,” which doesn’t help me answer the question. Is there a rule of thumb to follow?

  38. Jane says:

    ABBA concert or ABBA’s concert? Thanks!

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