Possessive with apostrophe



What phrase is correct?

a) students responsibilities
b) student's responsibilities
c) students' responsibilities

When should apostrophes be used in a noun + noun combination?

Posted 08 December 2001


Here's an example for adding an apostrophe to "students' responsibilities."

"Student's responsibilities" means that one student has many responsibilities.

"Students' responsibility" means that two or more students share one responsibility.

"Students' responsibilities" means that two or more students have many responsibilities.

Phrase a) is incorrect because it contains no apostrophe to show possession.

Maryanna Koehring



Vera asks: Which of these phrases is correct?

a) students responsibilities

b) studentīs responsibilities

c) studentsī responsibilities

Phrase (a) is not correct. It has no apostrophe, and possessive forms of nouns must have an apostrophe, in both singular and plural.

Phrase (b) is not correct simply because it lacks an article before the singular noun student. It would be correct if it were written as

a student's responsibilities (if the idea is any, indeterminate, student)


the student's responsibilities (if the idea is one particular student, or the generic "prototypical" student).

Phrase c) is correct. Plural possessives have the apostrophe after the plural suffix, not before. Other such phrases include

patients' rights
workers' compensation
borrowers' privileges
teachers' union

With irregular plurals, the apostrophe comes after the plural form and before the "s":

children's advocate
women's health care

In actual practice, we see a variety of deviations from these principles, especially on signs in public localities. Still, standard writing style requires that the apostrophe be placed after the plural form.

Marilyn Martin

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