Introducing Possession in English Grammar

Sentence Structure

There are several ways to show ownership or possession in English grammar.

The way we use mainly depends on whether the owner is animate (i.e. a person or an animal) or a thing. But as always, there are exceptions to this general rule.

Animate Owners


To show possession we can add an apostrophe -s (sometimes called a Saxon genitive) to the owner.

This is Amelia. Amelia owns the dog. This is Amelia‘s dog.

See the main article, Possessive Apostrophes‏‎.

Possessive Adjectives

Because Amelia is female we can use a feminine personal pronoun‎ instead of her name and the apostrophe -s. This is the female possessive adjective (we call it an adjective because it describes the noun):

This is Amelia’s dog. This is her dog.

He rode his bike to work.

She lost her keys.

See the main article, Possessive Adjectives‏‎.

Possessive Pronouns

We can also use a possessive pronoun which refers to the whole noun phrase‏‎:

This is her bike. This is hers.

Who does this car belong to? It’s his.

See the main article, Possessive Pronouns‏‎.

Inanimate Owners

With inanimate objects, we don’t normally use an apostrophe -s to show possession. For example we wouldn’t normally say

? The door’s handle.

Note the question mark at the beginning of this statement; this denotes that it is of questionable grammar and may not be correct English.

We use the preposition of to show ownership instead:

The handle of the door.

Compare this to people which don’t normally use of to show ownership.

* The dog of Amelia.

* The car of Dave.

Note the asterisk which denotes the sentence does not have correct English grammar.


As often happens with English, there are exceptions to this general rule of animate/inanimate possession. For example, sometimes we can have two types of possessive phrase which mean pretty much the same thing:

the people’s decision

the decision of the people

Adverbs of Time

Although time is inanimate, we don’t use of to show possession but instead use an apostrophe -s.

Yesterday’s news.

It was ten minutes’ drive.

Subordinate Clauses

As we said above, people normal take an apostrophe:

The girl’s dog.

But suppose we have a subordinate clause‏‎ which describes the girl:

The girl in the green dress’ dog.

The is grammatically correct if a little clumsy. But what about this:

The girl’s dog.

The girl with her friend’s dog.

Who owns the dog? Is it the girl or her friend? This can be clarified by using of instead:

The dog of the girl with her friend.


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