In this lesson you will learn everything you need to know about possessives in English grammar. This lesson is part of a full Upper-Intermediate English Course (B2 CEFR). You can find the classroom presentation version of this lesson in the Materials tab above. You can find the exercises for possessives at the bottom of this page.

An illustration to show examples of correct and incorrect use of possessive nouns with 's. Correct: This is John's house. Incorrect This is the house of John. Correct: This is Sara and Peter's house. Incorrect: This is Sara's and Peter's house.

Possessive Nouns

To say that something belongs to someone add an ‘s.

  • I went to Tom’s house. ( Not “The house of Tom”.)
  • This is John’s car.
  • Have you seen Anna’s bike.

Nouns that end in S but are not plural

Names that end in S can take another S for possession, but don’t have to. It’s optional. Both of the forms in the following examples are correct.

  • Jesus’s house. / Jesus’ house.
  • Charles’s dog. / Charles’ dog.

You can use whichever of these forms you prefer.

Lists and possessive ‘s

When we have a list of people or other nous that something belongs to, just add the ‘s to the last item on the list, not to all of them.

  • Paul, Mark and Tom’s plans were ruined by the weather.
  • Sarah and Tania’s car has been stolen!

Don’t add an S for plurals (that end in s).

Plurals that already have an “S” don’t need another for possession.

  • My parents’ house.
  • The dogs’ toys.

Plurals that don’t have an “S” DO need a possessive “S”

  • The children’s room.
  • The men’s room.

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between:

  • My parent’s house.
  • My parents’ house.
  • My parents’ house – belongs to 2 people (plural parents).
  • My parent’s house belongs to one person (single parent).

When not to use ‘s

Don’t use ‘s when talking about a component or characteristic. Use this form instead:

  • The name of the street.
  • The top of the mountain.
  • The end of the film.
An illustration to show examples of correct and incorrect use of possessive nouns with 's. Correct: He did it with his parents' help (2 parents): correct. He did it with his parents's help: incorrect. These are the children's toys: correct. She is Charles' wife: correct. She is Charles's wife: Correct

Inanimate Possessive Cases in Time Phrases

Time phrases can take an ‘s form.

  • I’ll be back in two weeks’ time.
  • He will be finished in ten minutes’ time.
  • It’s three hour’s walk to the next village. It’s a three-hour walk to the next village.
  • It was three hours’ work to finish the project.
  • I didn’t read yesterday’s newspaper.

Possessive Pronouns and Adjectives

Personal PronounPossessive adjectivePossessive Pronoun
he hishis

It’s and its.

The possessive for “it” doesn’t have an apostrophe (‘).

“It’s” means “it is”.

  • This building is famous for its towers.
  • It’s known for its cuisine.

When to use possessive adjectives and nouns.

We use possessive adjectives to describe nouns. 

This is my book

Use possessive nouns as to substitute possessive adjectives and nouns.

  • This is mine.
  • I have visited his house, but he hasn’t visited mine.
  • I’ve cooked their dinner but not ours.

Possession and Body Parts

We use possessive adjectives when talking about parts of our bodies:

  • My head hurts.
  • I broke my arm.
  • It broke my heart.

A friend of mine

This form uses a possessive pronoun or noun after “of”.

  • A friend of mine visited yesterday.
  • A friend of ours visited yesterday.
  • A friend of Sally’s visited yesterday.

Possessives Exercises

Do you think you can remember all of that? Check your comprehension with these interactive exercises.