Grammar What Is the Possessive Case? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

What Is the Possessive Case?

The concept of case in English involves the relationship of a noun, a pronoun, or an adjective (also referred to as a determiner) with other parts of a sentence.

The possessive case often conveys possession or ownership, such as Joseph’s book or my opinion. It is the only case in which nouns alter their form (e.g., Joseph to Joseph’s). This simple alteration changes a person, place, or thing into an owner or possessor of something else.

The possessive case does not always express straight possession or ownership. It also provides information such as origin or authorship (Mozart’s music: the music by Mozart), measurement (mile’s distance: the distance of a mile), description (children’s book: the book for children), and source (report’s content: the content of or from the report).

What Are Possessive-Case Nouns?

The possessive case of nouns is formed by adding ‘s (report’s) or just (boys’) to the noun. It is also often established with an adjectival prepositional phrase beginning with “of” that indicates a relationship (this is also referred to as the genitive case).


the report’s content (a noun has a possessive relationship with another noun)
the content of the report (the relationship is expressed by the object of a preposition)

the player’s uniform (a noun has a possessive relationship with another noun)
the uniform of the player (the relationship is expressed by the object of a preposition)

A possessive noun will usually include ‘s when it is singular (report’s) and when it is plural (reports’). The noun being possessed also can be either singular or plural:

report’s content
report’s contents 

reports’ content
reports’ contents

If a plural possessive noun does not end with s, it will take ‘s: children’s, people’s.

If either a singular or a plural possessive noun ends with s, style guides will often differ over whether to use or ‘s. Technically, either possessive marker can be correct. Many writers will choose according to how a plural possessive noun is pronounced.

Illinois’ Chris’s
boys’ boss’s
Moses’ Texas’s
parents’ Bess’s

If a possessive noun is compound with joint possession, the second (last) noun would be marked with the possessive: Bob and JoAnn’s house (they own the house jointly). If the compound has separate possession, both nouns would have a possessive marker: Bob’s and JoAnn’s houses.

If the possessive noun is a hyphenated compound, we would apply the possessive form to the last word of the compound: sister-in-law’s car.

In many cases, if the possessive noun is an object, a building, or another inanimate item, we do not need to mark the possession.


Let’s meet in the hotel lobby (instead of hotel’s lobby).

They closed the trap door (instead of trap’s door).

Have they delivered the morning paper? (instead of morning’s paper)

What Are Possessive-Case Pronouns?

A possessive-case pronoun replaces a noun in communicating ownership or possession. There are six possessive-case pronouns:

mine hers
yours ours
his theirs


That opinion is exclusively Brian’s.
That opinion is exclusively his. (The possessive pronoun his replaces Brian’s.)

My name is Jessica, and that snow globe belongs to me.
That snow globe is mine. (The possessive pronoun mine replaces Jessica and me.)

The raincoats are the Simpsons’.
The raincoats are theirs. (The possessive pronoun theirs replaces Simpsons’.)

Possessive-case pronouns never include apostrophes: mine’s, yours’, his’, hers’, ours’, and theirs’ would all be incorrect.

Note that we do not include its as a possessive pronoun for replacing a thing or an inanimate object. Technically it could be correct, but for daily formal writing, we believe that alternative phrasing is typically more desirable.


The towel is the hotel’s.

The towel is its.

In this case, either the towel is the hotel’s or the towel belongs to the hotel is better English than the towel is its.

What Are Possessive-Case Adjectives?

Possessive-case adjectives (determiners) are personal pronouns in an adjectival position to express possession or ownership. There are seven possessive-case adjectives:

my its
your our
his their


That is your Bundt cake.

Our kitten loves to chase its tail.

Have you seen our new lawnmower?

Each possessive adjective modifies a noun to show a direct relationship with it.

In some cases we might also have possessive adjectives and nouns in succession.


Do you know your father’s brother’s wife’s maiden name?

I see your dog’s footprints in the snow.

My guitar’s strings need to be changed.

Related Topics

Plural Possessive Noun
Possessive Pronouns
Apostrophes and False Possessives

Pop Quiz

Identify the possessive-case form of each highlighted word (noun, pronoun, or adjective).

1. I would like to know their secret pasta-sauce recipe.

2. That pencil’s tip is dull.

3. The computer’s screen needs to be dusted.

4. The decision to switch jobs must be his.

5. The beautiful new home will soon be ours.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. I would like to know their secret pasta-sauce recipe. possessive adjective

2. That pencil’s tip is dull. possessive noun

3. The computer’s screen needs to be dusted. possessive noun

4. The decision to switch jobs must be his. possessive pronoun

5. The beautiful new home will soon be ours. possessive pronoun

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