Confusing Possessive Plurals

Learning regular and irregular plural forms is one thing, but learning the possessive form for each type can cause some pretty big headaches for our students! One of our customers recently pointed out a typo in Finding the Washroom, one of our older lessons waiting to be edited and reformatted. It said mens’ room instead of men’s room! After updating that lesson, we discussed how tricky it is for students to learn how to spell men’s room and ladies’ room. Why don’t we spell it mens’ room? And how can we help our English language learners learn possessive plurals?

The answer lies in thinking about the plural form before it becomes possessive. The plural of man is men, so the possessive follows the normal rule of adding an apostrophe + s to form men’s room. The plural of lady is ladies, so the possessive follows the normal rule of adding only the apostrophe to a plural word ending in -s, which gives us ladies’ room (scroll down for the complete list of rules). Let’s take a look at some other common English plurals and possessive forms in the table below.

Regular & Irregular
Possessive Plural Forms

Regular Plurals
Singular Possessive
Singular
Plural Possessive
Plural
lady lady’s ladies ladies’
guy guy’s guys guys’
girl girl’s girls girls’
boy boy’s boys boys’
kid kid’s kids kids’
student student’s students students’
teacher teacher’s teachers teachers’
school school’s schools schools’
book book’s books books’
Irregular Plurals
Singular Possessive
Singular
Plural Possessive
Plural
man man’s men men’s
woman woman’s women women’s
child child’s children children’s
person person’s people people’s
baby baby’s babies babies’
wife wife’s wives wives’
foot foot’s feet feet’s
tomato tomato’s tomatoes tomatoes’
class* class’s classes classes’

*Note that a singular word ending in -s takes an apostrophe + s, as in class’s. Most current style guides follow this rule.

Summary of Rules

1. For singular and plural nouns that don’t end in -s:  noun + ‘s
(e.g., boy + ‘s = boy’s / men + ‘s = men’s)

2. For singular nouns ending in -s: noun + ‘s
(e.g., class + ‘s = class’s)

3. For plural nouns ending in -s:  nouns + ‘
(e.g., ladies + ‘ = ladies’)

Examples

  • Excuse me, do you know where the men’s room is?
  • The ladies’ room is down the hall to the right.
  • Jimmy, do you need to use the little boys’ room?
  • My cousins and I always have to sit at the kids’ table.
  • Where are the children’s books in this store?
  • My class’s poem won first place. It beat the other classes’ submissions.

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