The following are Rules of Possessive Case Formation —

#1. By adding Apostrophe ('s)

  1. By adding ('s) to the Singular Nouns standing for Persons. As –
    • Mark's  book
    • the teacher's desk
    • the doctor's clinic
    • the lawyer's office.

  2. Apostrophe ('s) is also used with bigger animals and those very familiar. As –
    • Elephant's trunk
    • horse's colour
    • lion's share
    • tiger's den
    • bull's horns
    • dog's tail.

    Note:–  Apostrophe ('s) is not used with small animals and insects.

  3. Apostrophe ('s) is also used with personified objects. As –
    • Nature's law
    • Fortune's favour
    • Death's sting.

  4. Apostrophe ('s) is also used with Neuter Gender Nouns showing time, place, distance, weight or value. As –
    • One day's leave
    • at week's end
    • at a stone's throw
    • by month's end
    • at a pound's cost
    • a minute's rest
    • at a yard's distance.

  5. Apostrophe ('s) is also used with some special phrases. As –
    • at army's length
    • at finger's tips
    • for heaven's sake
    • for goodness' sake.

  6. Double Apostrophe ('s) should not be used. As –
    • This is John's father's house.

    The above sentence has double Apostrophe ('s) which is wrong. It should be written thus –
    • This is the house of John's father.

    Here one Possessive has been formed by using 's and other by the use of connective ‘of’.

    This is the correct way –
    • The father of John's friend has come. (Not John's friend's father...)

  7. Some words are there which are left out after Apostrophe ('s) because their sense is implied in the sentence itself. As – church, cathedral, school, shop, house, etc.
    • I bought this book from Mac Millan's. (shop is understood)
    • I am a student of St. John's. (school or college is understood)
    • I have my dinner today at my friend's. (house is understood)

#2. With hissing sounds

If there are several hissing sounds (sound of ‘s’ or ‘sh’) at the end of a word, only the mark of (') is used without ‘s’ after it. As –
  • For concience' sake; for justice' sake; Moses' laws.
  • Note:–  Keats's poetry or Keats' poetry, or Collins's poetry or Collins' poetry are both correct.

#3. Plural Noun with ‘s’

If a Plural Noun has ‘s’ at the end, only the mark of Apostrophe (') is used without ‘s’ after it.
As –
    Girls' hostel; boys' school; horses' tails.

#4. Plural Noun without ‘s’

If the Noun is in Plural Number but without ‘s’ at its end, full Apostrophe ('s) is used.
As –
    Men's club; Children's books.

#5 Noun or title with several words

If a Noun or a title is made of several words, Apostrophe ('s) is used only with the last word.
As –
  1. The Rana of Mewar's palace.
  2. The Government of India's Orders.

#6. Inseparable Nouns

If two or more Nouns are inseparably joined together, Apostrophe ('s) is used only with the last word.
As –
    Legouis and Cazamian's History of English Literature.

#7. Separate Possessives

If two or more Nouns have their own separate possessives, Apostrophe ('s) is used each time.
As –
  1. Marlowe's and Shakespeare's Plays.
  2. John's and Mathew's houses.

#8. Possessive Case by ‘of’

  1. Possessives of inanimate things are made by using ‘of’, not by Apostrophe ('s). As –
    • Leg of the table. (not, table's leg)
    • Lock of the door. (not, door's lock)
    • Pages of the book. (not, book's pages)
    • Nib of the pen. (not, pen's nib)
  2. For small animals and insects also ‘of’ is used (not 's) for their possessives. As –
    • Wings of a butterfly
    • Sting of a scorpion
    • Legs of an ant
    • Head of a stag.
  3. If a Possessive Noun is qualified by a phrase or a clause, Possessive is made by the use of ‘of’. As –
    • These are the toys of the children who are sleeping.
    • The milk of the cow which is black.

#9. Double Genitives

Sometimes Double Genitives are also used. In such cases Apostrophe ('s) is used with the Noun coming after ‘of’, or Possessive Pronoun (mine, yours, theirs, hers) is used without any further possessive mark or word.
As –

  1. This is a book of mine.
  2. John is a friend of Mark's
  3. Tempest is a play of Shakespeare's.
Note:–  With such structure it is important to note that they give the suggestion of one of the many. Thus, the sentence “This is the book of mine” means “This is one of my many books”. Therefore, this structure should not be used where the reference is to one thing or one person only. As such, the following sentences are wrong –
  1. He is a father of mine.
  2. She is a mother of mine.
These sentences would mean that ‘he is one of my many father’ or ‘she is one of my many mother’. This would be just absurd. These sentences should be written thus –
  1. He is my father.
  2. She is my mother.

  • Suggested Reading: Rules of Nouns

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