There are essentially two types of nouns in English that end in -s: possessive nouns and plural nouns. If you use the wrong type of noun, you can confuse your readers or unintentionally alter your point. A great example of this dilemma for business writers is learning to differentiate between “company’s” and “companies.”
When you use “company’s,” you are using a possessive noun to describe something that belongs to a single company. When you use “companies,” you use a plural noun to represent more than one company. You can also use a third form, “companies’” a possessive plural noun that describes something belonging to more than one company.
In this article, I’ll explain the intricacies behind these differences and provide you with a few examples of situations in which you will use each noun form. I will also give you a few practice questions where you can try your hand at using the correct form.
Finally, I will explain some additional issues of using nouns with apostrophes, especially acronyms and pronouns.
When Do You Use Company’s?
Possessive nouns like “company’s” are nouns that convey ownership. Possessive nouns describe our belongings and other nouns related to us. In this sense, ownership and belongings can be either physical or abstract.
Physical belongings are things you can interact with using the five senses — sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.
Examples of physical belongings include relatives, pets, and items. Of course, we do not own our relatives — for example, although I might be a parent and, therefore, responsible for my children, I do not own them — but we still describe their relationship to us by using possessive nouns.
Abstract belongings are things that you cannot interact with using the five senses. Examples of abstract belongings are ideas and emotions. For instance, if you experience sadness at the end of a movie, that sadness is your feeling and, from a grammatical standpoint, belongs to you.
Belongings can also be both singular and plural. A singular belonging is a single item, while a plural belonging is more than one item.
For example, look at the following sentence:
- The dog belongs to Meg.
You could use the possessive form of Meg (Meg’s) to replace the words “belongs to.” We would then rewrite the sentence like this:
The dog is Meg’s. or It is Meg’s dog.
The same rule applies to the noun “company’s.” This is a singular possessive noun that we use to describe something that belongs to an individual company. A company is an association of people whose purpose is commercial or industrial.
For example, examine the following:
- The tax reports belong to the company. → They are the company’s tax reports.
- The patent belongs to the company. → It is the company’s patent.
- This is the position the company took. → This is the company’s position.
When Do You Use Companies?
What is the difference between “company’s” and “companies”? While “company’s” is a singular possessive noun, “companies” is only a plural noun indicating more than one company.
Plural nouns like “companies” are nouns that describe more than one thing. In English, we make most nouns plural by adding the letter “s” to the end. For example, one chair becomes multiple chairs, and one thought becomes multiple thoughts.
You’ll notice, however, that one company does not become multiple “companys.” This is because the word “company” is an exception to the rule. The exception concerns words that end with the letter “y” and says the following:
When making words that end with the letter “y” plural, replace the “y” with “ies.”
Here are some other examples besides companies that illustrate this exception:
- One company in a collection of companies
- One fly in a group of flies
- A single berry in a bushel of berries
- The archenemy of all of my enemies
What Is the Plural Possessive of Company?
Like the things that belong to them, possessive nouns can be either singular or plural. For example, we’ve already described the possessive form of “company,” but there is also a possessive form of “companies.”
If you wish to describe something that belongs to multiple companies, you don’t have to change the spelling. All you must do is place an apostrophe after the “s” at the end of the word (i.e., companies’). Here are some examples to show how we could use this form of the word in a sentence:
- The companies’ office buildings are under construction.
- Our companies’ accountant handles all of our finances seamlessly.
- Their companies’ rivals are in the same industry.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you’re still struggling with possessive, plural, and possessive plural nouns, don’t sweat it. Even native English speakers have difficulty knowing when to use each form of a noun in writing.
There is even a disorder doctors call aphasia, where individuals have exceptional difficulty distinguishing between plurals and possessives (source).
Like dyslexia, which affects people’s ability to read letters and/or words in the correct order, aphasia obfuscates the knowledge of when to use the correct form of a noun ending in -s.
In general, people with aphasia use the possessive form of a noun by default, especially when working with trickier nouns and pronouns — e.g., proper nouns, acronyms, words that already end in -s.
Listening to native English speakers is not necessarily any easier. We do not have different pronunciations for “company’s,” “companies,” and “companies’,” which can make it even more difficult to determine which word someone is using.
As a result, the best way to learn which word to use is to memorize the rules. Writing practice sentences can also help. If you want some extra practice, try to fill in the blanks below with the right word (company’s, companies, or companies’).
- My _________ benefits program is great.
- The two _________, Google and Amazon, dominate the IT industry.
- The _________ logos all look the same.
- After the auditor looked at the reports, they realized that the _________ income statement was incorrect.
- Our _________ mascots are rivals on Twitter, and they have very funny arguments.
- All three _________ belong to the Berkshire-Hathaway group, which means they have the same owner.
- company’s (The benefits program belongs to a single company.)
- companies (This sentence is talking about two separate companies but not something that either or both of them own.)
- companies’ (Multiple logos means multiple companies, and those logos belong to those companies, which means we need a plural possessive noun.)
- company’s (The income statement belongs to a single company.)
- companies’ (Each company has its own mascot, so this sentence needs a possessive plural noun.)
- companies (This one is tricky because it talks about ownership and uses the phrase “belong to.” However, this sentence describes the entity to which the companies belong, not something that belongs to the companies.)
As we mentioned earlier, these rules do not just apply to forms of the word “company.” For more examples of possessive and plural nouns that follow this pattern, check out our article, “Universities vs. University’s: Understanding the Difference between Plural and Possessive.”
Do You Use an Apostrophe for Companies?
Only use an apostrophe with “companies” when you’re describing something that belongs to more than one company. Do not use it to describe more than one company.
Once you understand where to use the version of “companies” with an apostrophe, the next most important thing to memorize is where to place the apostrophe. Improper apostrophe placement is one of the seven unforgivable sins of English writing (source).
When using an apostrophe with “companies” — the plural form of the noun “company” — always place the apostrophe after the -s.
The following table summarizes the apostrophe rules for singular and plural possessive nouns (source):
|Singular (doesn’t end in -s) or Singular (ends in -s)||Plural (ends in -s)||Plural (doesn’t end in -s)|
|Usage||Describes something (or multiple things) that belongs to a single noun.||Describes something (or multiple things) that belongs to a group of nouns).||Same.|
|Rule||Add an apostrophe to the end of the word and follow it with the letter “s.”||Add an apostrophe to the end of the word.||Add an apostrophe to the end of the word and follow it with the letter “s.”|
It is important to note that English speakers vary in their pronunciation of singular words that end in -s, especially proper nouns like names. Some people may add an extra syllable (e.g., James-es), while others may say it the same way they would the noun itself (e.g., James).
Another noteworthy point is that even dictionaries and style guides squabble about the correct spelling of possessive proper nouns that end in -s.
The Chicago Manual of Style dictates the same usage described in the table above, but The Merriam-Webster Dictionary notes a few exceptions. For the most part, these exceptions are confined to common phrases like “Achilles’ heel” rather than “Achilles’s heel” (source).
Apostrophes and Acronyms
The rules we listed in the table above are especially important to memorize for acronyms. Both native English speakers and people learning English as a second language often make the mistake of adding unnecessary apostrophes to acronyms that contain the letter “s.”
For example, let’s look at GEICO. Although this is a common insurance company, few people know that it is an acronym, much less what that acronym means. If we break it down letter by letter, we can see how the letters in GEICO relate to the words the acronym represents:
- G = Government
- E = Employees
- I = Insurance
- CO = Company
GEICO is a single company, so there is no plural form of the acronym. As such, you can only make GEICO into a possessive noun. In other words, you must always add an apostrophe before the “s” if you add an “s” to the end of GEICO (i.e., GEICO’s).
Other acronyms do not conform to this rule. For example, let’s look at PIN, which stands for personal identification number. This noun has a possessive, plural, and possessive plural form, just like the word “company,” and it fits the same rules. These rules are as follows:
If you are discussing something that belongs to a PIN, write “PIN’s”:
- The PIN’s digits.
If you are referencing more than one PIN, write “PINs”:
- The customers’ PINs.
If you are describing something that belongs to more than one PIN, write “PINs’”:
- The PINs’ vulnerabilities.
Note that, unlike the use of apostrophes with singular nouns that end in -s, this is a universal rule. Both the sixth and seventh editions of the APA Style Manual provide succinct instructions to refrain from using apostrophes with plural acronyms (source).
Pronouns and Apostrophes
The only exceptions to the rules in this table are pronouns, which never include apostrophes to show possession. This is because pronouns do not have unique plural forms. So, for example, you would never say “a group of hers.” Instead, you would say, “them.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com
The following table describes the possessive and plural forms for each of the main pronouns in the English language:
|Subject Pronoun||Object Pronoun||Possessive Form||Plural Form|
|I||Me||My / Mine||–|
|You||You||Your / Yours||You|
|We||Us||Our / Ours||Us|
|She||Her||Her / Hers||Them|
|They||Them||Their / Theirs||Them|
For more information on using the correct pronoun, check out our article “You and I or You and Me: Understanding the Correct Use of these Pronouns.”
If you’ve mastered the art of using possessive and plural nouns, then you may want to explore other spelling and grammatical rules.
You might also want to investigate other subjects to see where you excel and where you struggle. Check out our article “Finding and Understanding Your Academic Strengths and Weaknesses” for a comprehensive guide on how to explore your academic capabilities.
Differentiating between plural nouns, possessive nouns, and plural possessive nouns can be tricky, but it isn’t impossible.
“Company’s” is the possessive form of the singular noun “company.” In other words, it describes something that belongs to a single company. “Companies” is the plural form of the singular noun “company.” It describes more than one company.
“Companies’,” with the apostrophe at the end, is the possessive form of the plural noun “companies.” It describes something that belongs to more than one company.