‘s Versus ‘ or s’s: Possessive Apostrophes

The general rule for singular nouns is to use an apostrophe and s at the end to show possession. EXAMPLES: the teacher’s, Mom’s, and Sahara’s.

The general rule for regular plural nouns is to use an apostrophe only at the end to show possession. EXAMPLES: the teachers’ lounge, the racers’ cars, and the singers’ voices.

Purdue Online Writing Lab had this note, but it is not what I found to be true during my research:

The generally accepted convention for most academic styles (including CMOS, APA, and MLA) is to add apostrophe + s to the singular form of the word, even if it ends in “s.” Non-academic styles, such as AP, suggest simply adding an apostrophe to the end of a word that ends in “s.” Please check the style guide of whatever format you’re using to make sure you’re in line with their recommendations.


What I found from most universities, style guides, and manual resources was what I was taught (and do), which clashes with the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS 7.15–28) when it comes to nouns ending in s (whether singular or plural). We says possession is shown by using an apostrophe only. EXAMPLES: Jewels’ coat, Thomas’, and Alexis’.


It’s the age-old question: Should you add apostrophe + “s” to singular words that already end in “s” (such as Jamescactus, or dress), or just an apostrophe? The answer is that both solutions are correct. It depends on your style guide and your personal preference. 

  • The class’ pet bunny was missing. (Correct)
  • The class’s pet bunny was missing. (Correct)

These examples show you that it really all depends, which is why it gets confusing:
Most of these say not to use ‘s after s unless it is a proper name? That is a new spin on what was just said, huh?

Singular common nouns ending in s

add ‘s unless the next word begins with s

the hostess’s invitation, the hostess’ seat.

Plural nouns ending in s

add only an apostrophe

the players’ practice facility

Plural nouns that end in letter ‘s’

Add an apostrophe only

both committees reports
the Joneses submission
the Sanchezes security passes

Proper names ending in letter ‘s’

Add an apostrophe and another ‘s’, even if you don’t pronounce that final ‘s’

James’s profession
Laos’s population
Louis’s supervisor
Jesus’s disciples

The Punctuation Guide was a great resource for explaining things. It gave the general rules and the exceptions. Of course, the easiest one I read was from The Britannica Dictionary.

Do not create a double or triple “s” when adding an apostrophe

If adding an apostrophe “s” would result in a double or triple “s” at the end of the word, erase the “s” after the apostrophe and leave the apostrophe in place. Example:

  • Sophocles house, NOT Sophocless house
  • Several bosses houses, NOT several bossess houses

Note: Some grammar textbooks recommend keeping the “ss” or “sss” ending for singular words or for names ending in “s” or an “s” sound because this spelling allows for easier pronunciation.Examples:

  • Jamess party, Marxs teachings, the bosss house, the classs work, and congresss motion


Now, I cringe every time I see s’s, but it doesn’t make it wrong. The truth is, like with most writing, you just need to stay consistent in your choices.

There are some other rules to think about. Here are some great resources to help you understand them:

Avoid the Dreadful It’s/Its Confusion:

It’s is a contraction for “it is.” It’s is never a possessive.
Its is the possessive for “it.”

Possessive Pronouns, such as yours, hers, its, and ours, take no apostrophe.

Example: The decision is yours.

Indefinite Pronouns, such as anyone, everybody, no one, and somebody, use the singular possessive form.

Example: Somebody’s dog stayed in our room last night.

  • add  to the end of plural nouns that end in -s:
    • two cats toys
      three friends letters
      the countries laws

  • add ‘s to the end of compound words:
    • my brother-in-law‘s money

  • add ‘s to the last noun to show joint possession of an object:
    • Todd and Anne‘s apartment


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