Is it 's or s? 4 ways to use S in English like a pro
Updated: Feb 14
A quick guide to forming possessive 's, plurals, 3rd person singular s and contractions of is and has – with all spelling and pronunciation rules in one place. This simple roadmap will help you stop making elementary-level mistakes and finally learn how to use s in English correctly.
S is a really sneaky little thing, and most students struggle with it for years never knowing where to put it and making loads of mistakes on the way.
That's probably you every time you need to use s in English.
Since making that kind of mistakes can make you sound like a total beginner, and we wouldn't like that, I decided to put together a simple how-to guide kind of lesson on how to use s in English like a pro.
After reading this you'll be able to test yourself and hopefully start using s correctly. Good then, let's dive right in.
We use s in English:
at the end of plural nouns
with 3rd person singular verbs
to show possession
to contract verbs is and has.
Most plural nouns in English need -s at the end, for more details on spelling rules have a look at the table below.
Even though we sometimes drop consonants at the end of words, we always clearly pronounce the plural s to avoid confusion as to a number of things we’re talking about.
If you're an Italian native speaker, that might be really difficult for you because Italian plural forms don't take s, and when you borrow a word from English and use it in your language, you always drop the final s. For example, mi piace il tuo short is how you say I like your shorts. Be careful there, always pronounce the plural s.
Trish bought two pairs of trousers. (not trouser)
I really like your glasses. (not glass)
We had a few friends over last night. (not friend)
Both of my sisters live in Seattle. (not sister)
As always in English, there are some exceptions, and below you can find the most common nouns that do not take s in the plural.
Irregular plural nouns
a man – men, an aircraft – aircraft, a woman – women, a child – children, a person – people, a tooth – teeth, a foot –feet, a goose – geese, a mouse – mice, a louse – lice, an analysis – analyses, a thesis – theses, crisis – crises
Animals with the same plural form
a salmon – salmon, a fish – fish, a sheep – sheep, a deer – deer, a swine – swine, a buffalo – buffalo, a moose – moose
Just crazy words
passers-by, attorneys general
3rd person subject verb agreement
The 3rd person singular -s helps us show subject verb agreement in the present simple, present continuous, present perfect and past continuous.
there’s no subject verb agreement in the past simple
we don’t use -s in the 3rd person plural
Mark lives in Canada – one person, 3rd person singular -s
Mark and Stacy live in NYC – two people, 3rd person plural doesn’t take -s
Mark lived in Canada for 4 years. – Past Simple, 3rd person singular = no subject verb agreement
Mark and Stacy lived in Canada and then moved to the States. – Past Simple, 3rd person plural = no subject verb agreement
Tom is working from home this week.
She was walking back home when the accident happened.
My boss has been promoted to the Senior Partner.
Plural s and 3rd person singular s can be confusing
Boys walk fast
– plural s, (not boys walks)
That boy walks slowly
– 3rd person singular s, (not that boy walk)
The 3rd person singular -s in main verbs drops in questions and negatives with does
What time does she start? (not What time does she starts?) My boss doesn’t like going to meetings. (not My boss doesn’t likes…)
The second verb never takes -s, it’s either to infinitive or bare infinitive.
She needs to work all day. (not She needs to works all day)
3rd person s
We use the possessive ‘s to say something belongs to a person or animal (animated nouns). We also use it with time words, periods of time, organisations and places. We don’t use the possessive ‘s as a partitive – not book’s cover.
I haven’t seen Tom’s book.
Tomorrow’s appointment has been cancelled.
It’s a ten minutes’ walk.
EU’s decision has been widely criticised.
Spain’s Prime Minister spoke to people outside the parliament.
Bachelor’s / Master’s
Don’t forget to pronounce ‘s when you talk about your degree, we say:
I did my Bachelor’s at Cambridge and then got my Master’s from the University of Columbia. (not I did my Master)
We put ‘s at the end of compounds, we say:
my mother-in-law’s car (not my mother’s-in-law)
our CEO’s office
his brother Peter’s wife (not his brother’s Peter wife)
the sales representative’s email
Proper nouns ending in s
We put ‘s at the end of proper nouns ending in -s in the singular, we say:
Mr Watkins’s wife
King Charles’s coronation but Kind Charles III’s coronation
*Possessive s doesn’t have a long form: Jesus’s disciples is not Jesus is disciples
We use ‘s to abbreviate 3rd person is and has, and we usually pronounce these forms contracted, unless we want to emphasise them.
Tom’s done it = Tom has done it
Stacy’s not at home = Stacy is not at home
He’s got a few question = he has got a few questions
She’s not interested = she is not interested
We do not abbreviate is and has after any of hissing sounds /s, z, ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/
The garage is over there. (not The garage’s over there)
Charles is at home.
Mr Jones is ready.
Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic landmark.
Fish is really expensive
The pronunciation of s in:
third person singular verbs
contractions of is and has