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Grammar guide: Plurals and possessives

A guide to the Standard English conventions surrounding plural and possessive nouns and pronouns

What are plurals and possessives?

Plurals are nouns and pronouns that refer to more than one thing.
Possessives are nouns and pronouns that show possession.
There are similarities and differences in how plurals and possessives are formed that can cause confusion. In particular, confusion can arise over when to use or not use apostrophes.
  • One cannot overstate the importance of bee's to the pollination of Michigans blueberry crop.
  • One cannot overstate the importance of bees to the pollination of Michigan's blueberry crop.
The formation of plurals and possessives may be tested in one of the Form, structure, and sense questions that you encounter on test day.

How to form plurals and possessives

To succeed on questions about plural and possessive nouns, you'll need to know the rules for using apostrophes in the following cases:
  • Plural nouns
  • Singular possessive nouns
  • Plural possessive nouns
  • Pronouns

How to identify questions about plurals and possessives

When we approach form, structure, and sense questions, it's important to identify which Standard English conventions are being tested.
Make sure to look for errors with genitives and plurals if
  • the choices add or remove apostrophes
  • the choices change the placement of apostrophes
If you don't see one or both of these features, then the question likely doesn't deal with plurals and possessives.
Let's look at a plurals and possessives question now:
Plurals and possessives example
Slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel The Poet X, winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, is composed of ______ protagonist, fifteen-year-old Xiomara Batista.
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?
Choose 1 answer:

Top tips

Check all the nouns

SAT questions that ask us about plural and possessive nouns may include two nouns in the underline. The choices will include variations where one, both, or neither of the two are made plural or possessive.
Be sure that the answer you choose uses (or doesn't use) apostrophes correctly in both nouns.

Beware "its" and "their"

"Its" and "their" follow the same rule as other possessive pronouns: they don't require an apostrophe. However, these pronouns are frequently confused with the contractions "it's" and "they're".
Any time you see a form of "it's/its" or "there/their/they're" appear in the choices, double check that you're using the appropriate form.

Your turn

Plurals and possessives
Labor unions are formed in order to protect ______ through collective bargaining, which gives employees greater leverage while ensuring they are treated equally by management.
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?
Choose 1 answer:

Plurals and possessives
The striated ______ walls are the result of erosion and frost weathering having exposed layers of multicolored sedimentary rock.
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?
Choose 1 answer:

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