By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. recognise the genitive  form of nouns.
  2. explain  that ‘genitive’  simply  means possessor or owner. iii.  use the genitive  form of nouns appropriately.

The genitive form

The genitive is the form of a noun or pronoun that shows possession or ownership. So, the word  genitive  simply means possessor or owner of an entity. For example, in the sentence,

Kofi’s pen is on the table

the  form,  Kofi’s,  is  the  genitive  case  and  it  shows  that ‘Kofi’ is the possessor and owner of the item in question. So, the genitive case is sometimes called the possessive form.

Other English  cases include  ‘subject’ and ‘object’.  For example,  in the sentence,

Kofi gave the man a pen.

Kofi is the subject of the verb gave. You notice that the form, Kofi, does not change when it functions  as subject. Similarly,  in the sentence,

The man gave Kofi a pen.

Kofi is object of the verb gave. You notice again that the form, Kofi, does not change when  it  functions  as  object.  But  in  the  genitive  case,  the  form  Kofi  changes  to  a different  form, Kofi’s. Let us look at the sentence below.

This is Kofi’s pen.

Therefore,  the genitive  is the only case where English nouns take on a different form. Observe the items in the table below; the form of the noun in subject case is the same as the form in object case. But the form for genitive case is different.


Thus, English  nouns make changes in form to indicate  the genitive case.

Forms of the genitive case of nouns

The genitive  case of English  nouns can be expressed in three different  ways.

  1.  possessive genitive 
  2. partitive genitive 
  3. double genitive

The possessive genitive

The  genitive case may be expressed  by using the possessive marker.  There are  seven main forms of the possessive  genitive.  They are discussed below.

1.   The first form of the possessive genitive is singular noun + the apostrophe + the possessive marker ‘s’.  For example:

Singular Noun         Singular Possessive

teacher                        teacher’s

baby                            baby’s 

Jones                           Jones’s 

Alice                            Alice’s

So, the possessive of a singular noun is formed by adding an apostrophe and ‘s’, (’s) to the singular form.    It is important to  observe the pronunciation of the possessive forms shown above.

Read the sentences below. Notice the pronunciation of the possessive forms.

  1. Our  teacher’s table is placed in front of the class.
  2. What is attractive about the  baby’s eyes?
  3. I think  Jones’s suggestion is the best.
  4. Do you know  Alice’s mother?

The lesson to be learnt here is simple. First, in English, when the letter ‘s’ is doubled in a word, it is pronounced just like the single ‘s’. Second, the apostrophe is not heard or pronounced in English. Third, if there is an apostrophe between two ‘s’, the apostrophe is not pronounced and the two ‘s’ are pronounced just like one ‘s’.

2.   The  second  form of the  possessive  genitive  is  plural  noun  ending  in  ‘s’  + the apostrophe .  For example:

Plural Noun        Plural Possessive 

teachers                      teachers’ 

Joneses                       Joneses’ 

babies                         babies’

writers                        writers’

So,  the  possessive  of plural nouns  ending  in  ‘s’  may  be  formed  by  adding  only the apostrophe to the plural form.

3.   The  third  form of the  possessive  genitive  is  plural noun not ending  in‘s’ + the apostrophe + ‘s’.  For example:

Plural                        Plural Possessive

children                       children’s

women                        women’s

So,  the possessive of plural nouns not ending in ‘s’ is formed by adding an apostrophe and ‘s’ (’s) to the plural form.

4.   The  fourth form of the possessive genitive is abstract noun ending in ‘ss’ or ‘ce’ + the apostrophe .  For example :

for goodness’ sake

for righteousness’ sake

 for conscience’ sake

Thus,  the possessive of abstract nouns ending in ‘ss’ or ‘ce’ is formed by adding only an  apostrophe.  However,  it  is  now more  fashionable  to  drop  the apostrophe in such phrases. For example:

for goodness sake

for righteousness sake for conscience sake

5.   Another form of the possessive genitive is  the last word of a  compound noun + an apostrophe + ‘s’.  For example:

Singular Noun          Singular Possessive

son-in-law                   son-in-law’s

director-general         director-general’s

Plural Noun             Plural Possessive 

sons-in-law                 sons-in-law’s 

directors-general        directors-general’s

So,  the possessive form of a compound  noun is formed by adding the apostrophe and s’ (s) to the last word of the compound  noun.

6.   The sixth form of the possessive genitive expresses separate ownership. To express separate ownership,  make all words show possession.  For example:

Aku’s, Adjo’s and Mamle’s fathers are all business men.

7.   The  seventh  form of the possessive genitive expresses joint ownership.  To  indicate joint ownership,  make only the last word show possession.  For example:

Akweley and Kork or’s store is closed today.

It  is  important  to  observe  that possessive markers are not used  with inanimate nouns. For example,  it is incorrect to say:

The men rested at the  mountain’s foot for a while. (Incorrect)

Instead, we say: 

The men rested at the foot of the mountain for a while.

There are exceptions to this rule. These include  the following:

1.   expressions  of time, for example:

 two weeks’ duty tour

a day’s holiday

three weeks’ vacation.

Use these expressions in sentences.

  1. Mr Charles Baah starts his two week s’ duty tour today.
  2. The students were given  a day’s holiday after participating in the independence anniversary celebrations.
  3. Ms Baiden’s three weeks’ vacation ends tomorrow.

2.   expressions  of measurement,  for example:

twenty miles’ journey.

3.   an organization  that is thought  of as being made up of people.  For example:

disciplinary committee’s proposal examination committee’s report.

The partitive genitive

The  partitive  genitive  is  expressed  by  using  the  partitive  marker  of.  This  is  an  ‘of- phrase’ and is the expanded form from which the possessive markers are derived.   For example:

the gates of the building

the top of the mountain

the legs of the table.

the handle of the ladle.

the head of the mouse.

The partitive  genitive  can be used to express the genitive case of all nouns, though it is mostly  used with inanimate  nouns.

The double genitive

This  form combines  the  use  of the partitive  genitive  and  the possessive  genitive.    For example:

  1. A daughter of Prof. Addo’s should be a lady of eminence.
  2. This hand of mine has suffered many hurts.

This use of the genitive case of nouns is not common among second language speakers of English.


You have learnt that:

  1.  the  genitive  is  the  case  that  shows  possession  or  ownership.  So,  the  word genitive simply  means possessor or owner of an entity.
  2. we  say  that  the  genitive  is the only case where English nouns take a different form.
  3. the genitive case of English nouns can be expressed in three different ways: the possessive genitive, the partitive genitive, and the double genitive.
  4. the partitive  genitive  is expressed by using  an ‘of-phrase’.
  5. the  double  genitive  form  combines  the  use  of  the  partitive  genitive  and  the possessive genitive.



John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

Peer Reviewers

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D. 

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil. 

William  Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.