Client’s or Clients’: When to Use Possessive or Possessive Plural

Individuals attempting to learn the English language will often find themselves at their wits’ end as one of the most complex languages to navigate, mostly due to grammatical structure.

When it comes to the possessive form, a brand-new challenge presents itself in the form of the plural possessive, especially where it concerns words that end in -s, like “clients.”

The singular possessive of this word, client’s, indicates that a thought or item belongs to one person, like an individual client’s file. The plural possessive (clients’) shows that something belongs to, or that we can attribute it to, multiple individuals that are clients. If all your clients had one goal, that would be your clients’ goal. 

The possessive plural is often confused with the singular possessive form because the word in question typically already contains an -s, as is the case with “clients.”

This article will use client’s and clients’ to look at the possessive and the possessive plural and how they differ from one another.

Understanding the Possessive Form 

Although it is a reasonably common and valid notion that English is a complex language, forming the possessive is relatively simple, and it starts with the letter “s.”

Forming Possessives

For most singular nouns, like the word “client,” we simply add an apostrophe-s to make it possessive. An apostrophe-s looks like this — ʼs. This easy way of changing whether you’re talking about one thing or many things works for words that don’t already end in -s (source). 

Singular NounSingular PossessiveExample Sentence
ClientClient’sThe client’s file.
CarCar’sThe car’s engine.
DogDog’sThe dog’s bone.
FatherFather’sMy father’s tools.

The Plural Possessive

As with any grammar rule in English, it gets more complicated the deeper you dive into it. Although singular possessives are relatively straightforward, there are some exceptions, but we’ll get to that later.

The tricky bit comes into play when we’re talking about the plural possessive. The plural possessive is when something belongs to an entire group.

The plural possessive is more challenging than the singular possessive because it is dependent on the noun in question and whether it is a regular or irregular noun.

Plurals in the English language are usually constructed by simply adding an -s to the word’s end. The nouns for which this is possible are called regular nouns.

We mainly form the plural possessive by adding a simple apostrophe (ʼ) after the last “s” of the word, or, in the case of irregular nouns, adding an apostrophe-s to the end of the word (source).

Regular and Irregular Plural Nouns

Image by Shirota Yuri via Unsplash

A noun in the English language only becomes tricky when you make it plural. There are numerous regular nouns, and these won’t make your life difficult as they merely receive an -s at the end once you make them plural.

However, some nouns may confuse second-language learners because their plural forms either look nothing like their singular form or don’t change at all!

The critical thing we must remember here is that the possessive form’s formation will alter depending on whether the plural noun is regular or irregular.

As we’ve discussed in the section above, regular nouns are nouns that only get an -s added to them to make them plural. 

Regular NounPlural Noun
ClientClients
CarCars
DogDogs
FatherFathers

Irregular plural nouns look different in the plural form than when they’re in the singular form. This means that the entire word may change, a lot or a little depending on the word in question, and the plural noun will then often not end with simply -s.

For the most part, words that end in -ch, -x or -s in the singular form get an -es added to the end to make them plural. To remember this, think about it as words that sound like they end in -s in the singular form.

We also call these “mutating nouns” because they change their form.

Mutating NounsPlural Noun
BoxBoxes
WitchWitches
BusBuses
KissKisses

There are also some nouns we assume to be plural already in English, so they don’t have a plural form, for example, hair and grass.

Some nouns are so irregular that, although they have a singular and a plural, the word doesn’t change from one to the other.

Unchanging NounsUnchanging Plurals
One fishTwo fish
One sheepMany sheep
One mooseMany moose
One bisonSeveral bison

Irregular nouns are words that completely change their form from the singular to the plural. Irregular nouns in the plural form generally don’t end in -s — although they can, but that’s the English language’s complex magic.

For now, we’ll take a look at those that don’t end in -s in the plural.

Irregular NounPlural Noun
WomanWomen
ChildChildren
PersonPeople
MouseMice

To make a regular plural noun possessive, you should add only an apostrophe at the end as it already ends in -s. We use the apostrophe as a normal apostrophe but add it after the last “s.” You don’t add another “s” after the apostrophe.

This also applies to mutating nouns, as described above.

Regular Plural NounPossessive PluralExample Sentence
ClientsClients’Our clients’ information is confidential.
CarsCars’Both our cars’ tires are flat.
DogsDogs’Our dogs’ hair is all over the couch.
FathersFathers’Sons generally inherit their fathers’ estates.
Mutating Plural NounPossessive PluralExample Sentence
BoxesBoxes’All the boxes’ contents are all mixed up.
WitchesWitches’All the witches’ brooms are in a pile.
BusesBuses’Both the yellow and green buses’ seats are blue. 

If you want to make an irregular plural noun possessive, you should add an apostrophe-s, if it doesn’t already end in -s. This also applies to the mutating nouns we talked about that either already end in -s in the singular or sound like they do (source). 

Irregular NounPossessive PluralExample Sentence
WomenWomen’s All the women’s dresses are on the right-hand side of the store.
ChildrenChildren’sAll the children’s presents are under the tree.
MiceMice’sMy pet mice’s food is in the cupboard. 
PeoplePeople’s All the people’s cars are parked here.

Some words, like “people,” differ from other nouns because they already refer to a collective group. It’s always important to fully understand the context of what you’re trying to say to correctly use the plural, “people,” or the plural possessive, “people’s.” 

The English language can be complex to understand, but it is easy enough to master if you possess the right tools at your side. Any English second language learner should invest in The Oxford New Essential Dictionary for assistance when studying the meaning of various words, pronunciation, and plurals. 

Additionally, a helpful study guide, such as Dreyer’s English style guide, will provide a better understanding of English style and grammar in a quirky way that is fun to read. Both of these study aids are available on Amazon. 

Meaning of Client’s

A client is a person using the services of a professional business or person or expertise. They are paying customers that the service provider treats with respect. 

The word “client’s” is the singular possessive form of client, and, in this sense, it indicates that something belongs to an individual client. Therefore, if you want to talk about one of your various clients, you would talk about that client’s affairs. 

Here it is essential to remember that we can make “client” plural by adding an -s, “clients,” but that the possessive form of “client’s” is the singular possessive, and therefore it gets an apostrophe-s.

Examples:

  • Can you fetch me this client’s file from the office?
  • My client’s car just pulled into the driveway.
  • This client’s dog always comes along when we have a meeting. 

Meaning of Clients’

The word “clients” is the plural form of “client,” and by adding an apostrophe to the end of the plural form, we create the plural possessive. Therefore, the word “clients’” indicates that something belongs to or can be attributed to a collective group of clients. 

So, if you would like to say that all of your clients have one thing in common, or if you’d like to state that something can be attributed to your collective client group as a whole, you’d use the word clients’. 

To recap, since the plural form “clients” already ends in -s, we simply add an apostrophe for the plural possessive — clients’. 

Examples:

  • Our clients’ files are kept in a lockable cabinet.
  • All the clients’ documents are backed up and filed monthly.
  • We value our clients’ opinions and respect their wishes. 

Client’s Needs vs. Client Needs

The word “client” is mostly used in the professional field and addresses a collective group of individuals that have one thing in common — they are all paying for one single entity to render a professional service.

One of the most common phrases when talking about clients will concern their needs, and that is why you will often find the word “client” linked to the word “needs.”

Still, as both are plural, it can be difficult for second language English speakers to know which form of the word “client” to use.

If you were referring to the general needs of all clients of a particular firm, both the phrases “client’s needs” and “client needs” would be incorrect.

As you’re referring to a collective group with one thing in common, you would need to use the possessive plural, as we’ve discussed earlier in this article.

However, if you were referring to the needs of one specific client or individual, you would use the singular possessive — an individual client’s needs. 

Singular Possessive ExamplesPlural Possessive Examples
This client’s needs have been met.Our clients’ needs are among our top priorities.
This specific client’s needs are very important to me.Most of our clients’ needs include transparency and adherence to deadlines.

As we observed in the above table, if you are singling out a specific client and you’re talking about their needs, you would use the singular possessive.

If, on the other hand, you referred to a group of clients with one thing in common, you would use the plural possessive. 

Is it Clients, Client’s or Clients’

The three words clients, client’s, and clients’ may all look and sound similar, but they have very different meanings. So, how do you know which one to use? 

The truth of the matter is that there are a few easy tips you can keep in mind when using the word “client” to make sure that you are using the correct form of the word and not mixing up your singular and plural possessives.

TipForm to useExample
Referring to many people without talking about anything belonging to them.PluralMy business has more than 20 clients.
Referring to one specific client as well as something that belongs to them.Singular PossessiveMy client’s car just pulled into the driveway. 
Referring to a group of clients as well as something that belongs to them or something that they have in common.Plural PossessiveOur clients’ needs are very important to us. 

Final Thoughts

In the English language, we use the possessive form to indicate that something is belonging to or can be attributed to someone or a whole group of people.

If something belongs to one person or individual thing or animal, we use the singular possessive. If it belongs to an entire group, we use the plural possessive.

The word “client’s” is the singular possessive form of “client,” and “clients’” is the plural possessive form of the same word. The reason why it can be confusing is that the plural already ends in -s, but that is why we just add an apostrophe.

Once you understand the basic concepts of the possessive form, it is fairly simple to apply it to a wide range of words. 

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