Free Grammar Help

Free Grammar HelpWordsNouns

Nouns are words that represent things. Sometimes we use the definition "person, place, or thing," but a noun can also be an idea or concept. For example the word "noun" is a noun, because it is a concept of a kind of word. This means that the word "verb" is also a noun. The names of each of the 8 parts of speech are all nouns, because the names of things are nouns. When it's the official name, then we call it a "proper noun" and it starts with a capital letter.

There are five types of nouns.

Adding s to nouns or adding apostrophe s to nouns

Nouns only change in two ways. The main way that nouns change is to add "s" to the end to make it change from one thing to many things (plural). For example: one dog, two dogs; one cat, two cats; one book, two books; one idea, two ideas. You get it. The other way nouns change is to indicate possession, or that something belongs to the noun. We do this by adding an apostrophe and an "s". Grammar teachers everywhere are in agony because of these two different uses of the "s."

Can I make this simple? Take it in two steps. Step 1: if the noun is plural add s.

Step 2: To make the noun possessive: either add 's (if there is no s already on the end of the noun) or just add an apostrophe, if there already is an s at the end of the noun.

See the chart below.

In pronouns it's important to know whether the pronoun is a subject (I), object (me) or possessive (mine). But most other nouns don't change except in the possessive case.

Possessive Case

These are words that indicate possession or ownership. Usually indicated by an apostrophe and an s. Exceptions include pronouns (including it) which usually take no apostrophe and plurals which place the apostrophe after the s. The apostrophe is added at the end of the word when the addition of an additional s would be awkward because the word already has two s sounds close to the end of the word such as "Jesus' teachings" instead of "Jesus's teachings."

Here's a common question: "Which is correct? I appreciate his coming OR I appreciate him coming? The answer is: (You're going to get tired of this) It depends on whether you're speaking formally or informally.
Formal: I appreciate his coming.
Informal: I appreciate him coming.
Why? Because in English we use the possessive case for a noun coming before a gerund. (A gerund is the -ing form of a noun.) Who made up that rule? A lot of the rules in the English language were made up by scholars during the Victorian age. This was a period when people were obsessed with proper conduct. They thought it was improper for women to let their legs be seen so they also created covers for piano legs. They also tried to get us to stop liking sex. That only worked for about a hundred years or so. Unfortunately some of the rules of grammar have lasted.

Apostrophes in the Possessive Case

Apostrophes are the most misused symbol in the English language. They are a vestige of when English had four cases: Nomative, Genetive (Possessive), Accusative and Dative. It's only used for contractions and possessives. I used to have a business card with the slogan: "It's important to know the apostrophe and its uses." As you see, the sentence uses both "its" and "it's" to demonstrate the difference.

Click here for more on apostrophes.

An apostrophe before the s is used to indicate possessive case (ownership).

Frank's dog.
Frank's dog's bone.
Exceptions: It's = "it is" so use "its" for the possessive pronoun.
Example: It's Frank's dog. Frank's dog chews its bone.

An apostrophe is used after the s if the word already has an s because it is plural.

If Frank has two dogs and they share some bones then:

The bones are Frank's dogs' bones.

An apostrophe is used after the s when the singular noun ends in s and the addition of another s is awkward. (This is a judgment call and many writers add the extra s anyway.)

Example: The Smith's house is beside the Jones' house
Example: It's the Raiders' ball on the 10 yard line!
Example: I took a big bite out of the octopus' tentacle and he didn't like it!
Note: An apostrophe is never used after the s in its.