In this Grammar Tip, we’re going to cover the difference between plural and possessive proper nouns.

A proper noun is a name used for a particular person, place or thing and it begins with a capital letter. Nouns that name general things are common nouns.

Plural means more than one. The general rule to make a noun plural is to add an S or ES at the end. For example, you might have one dog or two dogs.

One of the challenges of English is that for common nouns, there’s an almost endless list of exceptions to this rule, such as one child, two children, one person, many people. Or for common nouns that end in y, you drop the y and add ies. One puppy, two puppies.

The rules for making a proper noun plural are much simpler and have fewer exceptions.

To pluralize a name, you almost always just add an S. The exceptions are when a name ends in S, X, CH, SH or Z. In those cases, you add an ES.

So let’s say you’re signing greeting cards from your entire family and you want to use the plural version of your last name. Some examples of how you’d do it are:

The Browns
The Butlers
The Smiths
The Steinbergs
The Bushes
The Gomezes
The Joneses
The Lennoxes

Never use an apostrophe to make a proper noun plural. Apostrophes are used to indicate possession.

To make a proper noun possessive, which means you want to show that something belongs to that noun, you add an apostrophe and an S. So if you want to indicate the car that belongs to John Brown, it would look like this:

John Brown’s car

But if you are signing a greeting card from the entire Brown family, there is no apostrophe. If you put an apostrophe in, it doesn’t make sense.

To make singular proper nouns that end in S possessive, you have a choice. You can either add an apostrophe or an apostrophe S. Either is correct.

The major style guides disagree on which is preferred. If you’re writing for a publication or a company that has an established style, use that style. If you’re writing for yourself, choose whichever form you prefer and be consistent.

Finally, if you have a proper noun that needs to be both plural and possessive, follow the rule to make it plural by adding an S or ES, then add an apostrophe. So if you want to refer to the home that belongs to the entire Brown family, it’s:


That’s how to make proper nouns plural and possessive. It really is easy to do it right.

Jacquelyn Lynn
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Grammar Tip: Plural and Possessive Proper Nouns