English language possessives can be a stumbling block for many ESL students. Possessive pronouns and possessive nouns show ownership.
The Possessive Noun Challenge for ESL Students
They are formed in specific ways and have particular usage rules. Incorrect possessive pronoun usage by students can result in English errors like:
‘Hers is the English book on that desk.’ Instead of ‘The English book on that desk is hers.’
The spoken English language errors that result from incorrect possessive noun usage are usually construction errors like:
‘The father of my friend.’ Instead of ‘My friend’s father.’
These errors happen because many languages use ‘of’ to express a noun’s possession.
More advanced ESL students have mastered the English language possessive noun sentence construction but they still struggle with written errors involving the use of apostrophes. These apostrophe usage errors can TANK your written English test scores!
Just WHERE Does That Apostrophe Go?
An apostrophe’s placement depends on whether a noun is singular, plural, or ends in the letter “s”.
Singular nouns show ownership (possession) with an apostrophe + the letter “s”.
‘Jean’s English book.’
Plural nouns THAT DO NOT END IN “S” also show ownership by using an apostrophe + the letter “s”.
‘The children’s toys.’
Plural nouns AND singular nouns that end in the letter “s” show ownership with an apostrophe AFTER the final “s” of the word.
‘All the buses’ routes go through downtown.’ More than one bus, the plural formed with “es” and an apostrophe goes at the very end of the word.
‘Her dress’ hem was uneven’. A single dress, this word already ends in the letter “s” and an apostrophe goes at the very end of the word.
Proper names that end in “s” show ownership two ways—with an apostrophe at the very end, after the “s”
‘James’ English paper was riddled with spelling errors.’
‘The McCaffertys’ dog ran away last night.’
AND…with an apostrophe + the letter “s”.
James’s English paper was riddled with spelling errors.
The McCaffertys’s dog ran away last night.
For more specific information about how to form these proper name plurals and possessive go here.
Full disclosure, this last bit of bonus info is confusing even for me! English language possessive pronouns and nouns can be real head-scratchers at times, and I’m not even sure that grammarians completely agree when it comes to proper name possessives.
The first place to start when deciding where to use the apostrophe for possessives is to ask yourself whether the possessive noun is singular or plural. The second important thing to be aware of is proper sentence construction—the possessive pronoun or noun should be DIRECTLY before the possessed item…reminding yourself of these rules will help ESL students avoid basic errors in sentences that contain possessive pronouns and nouns.