Discover how to use possessives in English

ABA English Masterclass: your one-to-one online English class

Possession in English is expressed through possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, and through the the possessive genitive, also called the Saxon genitive. The latter is a construction in English that does not exist in some other languages. If you need to review how to use possessives in English, this is the article for you.

The Saxon Genitive

The Saxon Genitive is used with the nouns for people, animals, countries, expressions of time, as well as the collective names for people and animals. It establishes a relationship of ownership or possession between two terms.

The Saxon genitive is formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s” to the name of the owner.

Examples

Robin’s car is green.

Julia’s dog is a beautiful westie.

My mum’s coat is brown.

If the name of the owner is plural, only the apostrophe is added. The same happens in the case of words that end with “s.

Examples

The sailors’ boat.

My friends’ new home.

Texas’ weather is unpredictable in the winter.

In the case of proper names both constructions can be used.

Examples

Mr. Jones’ cat is very old.

Mr. Jones’s cat is very old.

In compound names, the apostrophe and the “s” are added at the end of the last word.

Examples

My brother-in-law’s cousin.

My mother-in-law’s house is on the hill.

When there are several owners, the Saxon genitive rule is applied to the last name of the set.

Examples

Mario and Susan’s children attend primary school.

This is John and Jean’s car.

With collective names, the Saxon genitive is formed with an apostrophe and “s“.

Examples

People’s rights.

Women’s hair.

When the Saxon genitive is used for the name of restaurants, shops, schools, or churches, there is a difference of construction between British English and American English. The first requires the Saxon genitive with apostrophe and “s“, with the second leaves the name unchanged. In these cases, the name of the place (hospital, shop, restaurant, church) is implied.

Examples

British English

St. Mary’s is very ancient.

Are you coming to Paul’s for lunch?

American English

St. Mary’s is very ancient.

Are you coming to Paul’s for lunch?

When there are two cases of possessive in one sentence (the Saxon double genitive), it is interesting to pay attention to order of the words in the sentence, which may be reversed in relation to what happens in other languages.

Examples

This is John’s mother’s car.

Take Emily’s sister’s book, please.

The Saxon genitive is NOT used

  • When the relationship expressed is between people and places
  • When the owner’s name is followed by a sentence
  • With nouns for inanimate objects

To express belonging for nouns for which the Saxon genitive is not applied, the possessive can be expressed with either a construction using the preposition “of“, or with a construction using possessive adjectives or pronouns.

Examples

The cover of the album
The album cover

The door of the car
The car door

She is the wife of a maths teacher that works at my school.

The Queen of England>

Pay Attention to the Apostrophe!

One of the most frequent errors in possessive use is linked to the apostrophe. Remember not the use the apostrophe to form the plural of a noun.

The Wilsons are my neighbors.

Don’t forget that you must use an apostrophe in contractions.

It’s my book!

Don’t go out!

Possessive Adjectives and Pronouns

Another way to express possession is by using possessive adjectives and pronouns. In English, the possessive pronoun, is different from the possessive adjective. To avoid making mistakes, therefore, you should take care to memorize and learn to distinguish between them. Here is a table of the possessive pronouns and adjectives in English as well as some examples.

Person Adjective Pronoun
1st person singular my mine
2nd person singular your yours
3rd person singular masculine his his
3rd person singular femenine her hers
3rd person singular neutral its its
1st person plural our ours
2nd person plural your yours
3rd person plural their theirs


Examples

These are my keys. Those are yours.

Our house is quite small. Hers is big.

Our clothing is elegant and smart. Theirs is casual.

Are You Ready to Become an Expert in English Grammar?

Now you know the structure of the Saxon genitive and other ways to show possession in English. If you are interested in learning more about English grammar, you can try ABA English. We offer 144 grammar video classes to learn English both effortlessly and well. We also offer many short films so that you can learn to speak English naturally. What are you waiting for? Try one of our video classes today!

Start your English course

144 ABA FILMS

Short films that help students dive into the language through real life situations

144 video classes

Our native teachers make grammar comprehensible and useful

+1.000 exercises

Activities designed by our teachers to help students reach their maximum potential

6 certified levels

Boost your career with ABA English Certifications and Cambridge Official Examinations

Communicate with your teacher

Ask, write, describe… Your personal teacher will guide you along the way.

14 day guarantee

If you are not completely satisfied with our course, you can unsubscribe and get a full refund during the first 14 days