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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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2.3 Use of the apostrophe to express possession

In English, ’s (apostrophe s) is used to show possession, as in the following sentences:

  1. The Open University’s main campus is in Milton Keynes.
  2. Labov’s model has been used to analyse the story.

In the first sentence,’s is used to express the relationship between an owner, The Open University, and something that is being possessed: the main campus. The second sentence mentions a model that has been devised by Labov. It is his model.

Also, it is necessary to add ’s to singular words ending in ‘s’ as in this example:

The business’s goal is to expand overseas.

If the owners are described through a plural noun ending in s, it is just necessary to add the apostrophe at the end of the word as in this example:

Open University tutors mark their students’ assignments promptly.

Common errors

It is incorrect to leave out the apostrophe as in this example:

The authors view has been criticised.

In this example the writer is referring to the view of the author and not to several authors, so the word author should be followed by ’s.

The correct sentence is:

The author’s view has been criticised.

It is incorrect to use the ’s to make a word or an acronym plural, as in these examples:

  • I have three dog’s.
  • I have many DVD’s.

But it is correct to write:

  • I have three dogs.
  • I have many DVDs.

Activity 3

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Find the errors in the use of ’s in the signs below. How should they be corrected?

Four images of signs illustrating incorrect use of ‘s.
Figure 2 Signs
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Answer

  • a.Here ’s is used incorrectly to make chef and cook plural. Correction: chefs and cooks.
  • b.Acronyms such as MOT should be formed by just adding an s. Correction: MOTs and repairs.
  • c.The plural of dates is formed by adding an s, as in 1970s and 70s. Correction: 80s.
  • d.Correction: Children's Hospital.

Comment

Some road signs no longer use ‘s to indicate possession and in the UK many people no longer use it in informal writing. However, in academic writing this form is still used as it provides clarity.