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Children’s or Childrens’: Understanding Proper Usage of the Possessive Noun

Some people get confused about whether to use children’s or childrens’. Many people wonder where the apostrophe should go and if the letter “s” should come after children.

“Children’s” is the correct plural possessive form when something belongs to, is possessed, or is controlled by children collectively, as in “the children’s recreational center” since children is an irregular plural noun. In contrast, “the childrens’ recreational center” would never be correct as “children” is the plural of “child.”

I’ll cover the proper use of the plural possessive form.

Why Is Children’s Correct and Childrens’ Not Correct? 

There are three uses of an apostrophe, and they include indicating the omission of letters (contractions), to form possessive nouns, and to show the plural of symbols, numbers, and letters.

An example of words where an apostrophe works as a contraction is “she’s,” “it’s,” and “let’s.”

However, many assume that a contraction apostrophe is not acceptable in formal writing but acceptable in informal writing, especially when indicating a year.

Also, pluralizing can come with some degree of confusion. There are some words that you can simply pluralize by adding the letter “s.”

However, there are some irregular nouns with plurals that do not end with -s. An example of this is “children.” Also, some already have -s ending.

Some common rules guide the use of apostrophes in the majority of words and also indicate possession. 

One of the rules is to add -‘s if the noun is singular and has an -s ending. Another rule is to add only an apostrophe to a plural noun with an -s ending — for example, bananas’ and clowns’.

If you have a plural noun that does not end with -s, add -‘s to the ending — a perfect example is “children.”

Children’s is correct and childrens’ is wrong because “children” is plural and an irregular noun that requires the addition of -‘s to make it possessive.

Where Do -en Plurals Come From?

You will probably agree with me that the plural word for child is children. Generally, people believe that plurals often end with the letter “s,” but have you thought about plural words such as brethren, women, men, oxen, and children that end with -en?

Where do you think the -en comes from? In Old English (pre-1100 AD), the plurals of some nouns that followed specific patterns ended with -n (source).

However, plurals that come with -an and -en in Old English were spelled using -en during the Middle English period (AD 1100–1500).

During this period, writers applied the -en to plural words that do not come with -n originally.

The use of -en at the end of irregular plurals was prevalent in Middle English, and that was when childer, which was the plural of “child,” became “children.”

Looking at it, you might say that the -en at the end of “children” forms a sort of double plural because the -en was added to a word that was already plural. 

At one time, there was a high competition between the use of -s and -n as the primary ending for plurals in English.

During this time, the north of England favored the -s ending, and the south favored the -n ending.

As time went on, the -s ending became dominant, and the -n ending faded away eventually.

Even though -s plurals are universal, there are some surviving -n and -en plurals, and a perfect example is children.

Dreyer’s English style guide is a great tool to help you understand the English language’s nuances. You can easily find it on Amazon.

A Quick Lesson on Pluralizing Words

For you to have a better knowledge of why you shouldn’t add -s to the ending of “children,” let’s take a quick look at the simple rules that can help you form the plural of any noun in English.

When and Where You Should Add -s to Pluralize

Most regular nouns should have -s at their ending. Examples of these are “apples” and “cars.”

Nouns with -ph and -th Endings: Examples include “photographs” and “mouths.”

Nouns with -o ending: Examples include “pianos” and “photos.” However, there is an exception to this rule. Some terms having -o at the ending should end in -es, and this includes “heroes,” “tomatoes,” “potatoes,” and “cargoes.”

According to the general rule, -s should be added after nouns having -fe or -f at the end.

Examples of this include “giraffes” and “roofs.” Some noun endings with -fe or -f have an exception to this rule.

Instead of adding -s, remove -f or -fe, and replace them with -ves, as in “knives” and “leaves” to pluralize “knife” and “leaf,” respectively.

Add -s to a noun with -on at the ending. For example, “salons” and “canyons.” However, there is an exception for certain nouns where you will have to replace -on with -a to form plurals.

Examples are “phenomenon” and “criterion” to form “phenomena” and “criteria,” respectively.

When You Should Add -es to Pluralize

You should add –es to the ending of nouns having -ch, -sh, -z, -s, and -x at the end.

Examples of these are “watches,” “wishes,” “buzzes,” “buses,” and “boxes.”

If you come across a noun ending with -is, replace the -is with -es. These include noun words like oasis and analysis, having their pluralized words as “oases” and “analyses.”

When You Should Pluralize By Adding -ies to the Noun Ending

If you see a noun ending with -y, the general rule is to replace the -y with -ies. For example, the plural of “candy” is “candies,” and that of a “dummy” is “dummies.” This rule also comes with an exception — you sometimes need to add -s to some nouns ending with the letter -y.

How do you know there is going to be an exception? If the letter before -y is a vowel, add -s. Examples of such words are “monkeys,” “guys,” “ways,” and “toys.”

When You Should Add -i to Pluralize a Noun

If you have -us at the ending of a noun, the general rule is to remove -us and insert -i. Examples of these are a stimulus to stimuli, cactus to cacti, and fungus to fungi.

When You Don’t Need to Add Any Letter to Pluralize

Nouns that do not have plural forms: These include “news,” “money,” “love,” “livestock,” and “bravery.”

Nouns that do not come with singular forms: These are often clothing vocabulary, and they work in pairs such as “jeans,” “trousers,” “shorts,” and “scissors.”

When you have nouns that have the same singular and plural forms: Examples of words like these are “species,” “fish,” and “deer.” Words that fit into this rule mostly have to do with animals or biology.

Remember the Irregular Nouns or Forms

There are always some cases where the rules of plural spelling discussed above are not followed. Irregular nouns don’t follow any rules or fix into any format. Some examples of this are:

  • Woman to women and not womans
  • Child to children and not childs or childrens
  • Mouse to mice and not mouses

Final Thoughts

From the discussion so far, you probably now know where the -en plural comes from and the rules guiding the pluralizing of words. The rules of pluralizing show that you can’t add -s to the ending of most irregular nouns, and this includes “children.”

Considering and following this rule means childrens and childrens’ are wrong words and can’t be used in English.

As for “children’s,” it is a correct word in English that indicates possession by the children.

You can’t use -‘s to indicate plural. The possessive of one child is “child’s,” and the possessive of more than one child is “children’s.”