How to Make the Word PEOPLE Possessive

I happened to glance at an inscribed stone a while back at the local elementary school.  I’ve looked at this stone many, many times before. This time I looked a little closer:

Making the word "people" possessive isn't hard, but a lot of people get it wrong. Make sure you're right with this helpful information.

” Touched peoples’ lives.”

At first I thought, “How nice. They used an apostrophe.” The college students in my Comp I classes have a terrible time with apostrophes. They use them to make words plural (rarely a good idea) and then forget them when they need to make words possessive. Is it that hard to tell when a word should be possessive or when it’s plural? Maybe someone can tell me so I can better help my Comp I students.

Then I looked again. PEOPLES’. Oh. No. Really?! ?Adding the apostrophe AFTER the -s on the word PEOPLE is WRONG. If you’re confused by how to make the word PEOPLE possessive, read on.

How to Make the Word PEOPLE Possessive

To make a singular noun possessive, the rule is to add apostrophe s: The dog’s bone was missing.

To make a plural noun possessive (if it ends in -s), the rule is to add an apostrophe (after the -s). The cats’ paws were covered in dirt.

So, what’s up with people? PEOPLE is a plural noun, but it does not end in -s, because it is one of those irregular nouns (like geese, children, women etc). We don’t make it plural by adding an s because it is already plural. To make it possessive, revert back to the rule for singular nouns: add apostrophe -s.

The stone should say: “Touched people’s lives.”

Here’s a better way to look at this issue:

1. If the word you wish to make possessive ends in an “s,” regardless of it is plural or not, add ONLY an apostrophe (after the -s).

2. If the word does NOT end in -s,  add apostrophe ‘s.

Make sense?

More grammar posts you may like:

Your welcome or You’re welcome?

Bias or Biased?

Do to or Due to?

Less or Fewer?

Should have gone or Should have went?

If you’re looking for helpful grammar resources, here are my top picks:

Grammarly – Instantly fix over 250 types of errors with this free web-based grammar checker!

Strunk & White Elements of Style

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation 

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation 

The Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing

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Comments

  1. I always enjoy your grammar lessons. Child/children would pose the same situation, I guess.
    With making a noun plural, the question I always have is with our friends' last name, MacInnes. How does one properly make that plural when addressing something to the MacInneses/MacInnes'/etc. I usually just opt for writing The MacInnes Family. Some things just stump me.

  2. Rachel,
    You are correct. Any word that ends in s (whether plural or not), would just need an apostrophe at the end to make it plural. Names are always challenging. I like your solution to add the word Family! I do not think you should add an apostrophe to make a name that ends in -S plural. You would ad -es. Here is a website that addresses your question:
    http://englishplus.com/news/news1201.htm

    Hope you are having a lovely day in CO! 🙂

    • 🙂 I’m not sure what you mean by saying the word with the S. It seems to me that it should be obvious. Either the word is plural. OR it is possessive. Add an apostrophe if it’s not plural. Right? 😉

  3. Does the rule of “s” apply when making the word “peoples” possessive?

    Definition: the men, women, and children of a particular nation, community, or ethnic group.
    Usage: “the native peoples of Canada”
    Possessive usage(?)? “The Canadian native peoples’ prerogative is to support the native peoples of Canada.”

  4. Dear Michel,

    I always have had problems with the word people in the next phrases:

    There is too many people in this room

    or

    There are too many people in this room

    Please could you help me here.

    Thanks

    Berndt

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