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Customer’s or Customers’: When to Use Possessive Singular or Possessive Plural

It’s incredible how such a little punctuation mark as the apostrophe has the power to change the meaning of a word. The real challenge comes when deciding where to place the apostrophe to denote the possessive singular or the plural possessive form of a word, as in customer’s compared to customers’.

Use customer’s with the apostrophe before the “s,” to show the possessive form for a single customer. Use customers’ with the apostrophe after the “s,” to show the possessive plural form of two or more customers. Since the plural form of “customer” requires an -s attached to the word, you do not want to separate the “s” from the word with an apostrophe.

Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of the word “customer” and its singular and plural forms.

Singular and Possessive Singular Form

The formal definition “customer” is “one that purchases a commodity or service” (source). Generally, a customer purchases a good or service somewhere and then leaves that establishment.

This differentiates a customer from a client who seeks professional services from a business on an ongoing basis. The business relationship with a client is usually a closer one.

“Customer” refers to just a singular person, such as: 

  • The customer joined the queue. 

This is the foundation from which we add the possessive and plural forms. When an object belongs to someone or something, we use the possessive form. The most common way of denoting this is by adding an apostrophe at the end of the word, followed by an “s” (source).

Possessive Singular Form

The possessive form is not limited to people; animals and even inanimate objects can also, technically, possess something, like qualities, for example.

If you were to see a bird building a nest, you’d be correct to say that it is the bird’s nest. The use of the apostrophe and “s” communicate that this specific nest belongs to that particular bird.

Interestingly, if you were to remove the specific ownership of the nest, you would be forced to drop both the apostrophe and the “s,” leaving you with just “bird nest.”

At the same time, it is also correct to say “the building’s ground floor” and “the car’s horn.”

While a building and car are inanimate and cannot actively own possessions, they still receive the possessive form treatment in cases like these where their “possessions” are self-contained or nearby.

We could liken this oddity to assigning gender to inanimate objects, personifying them in some way.

For a similar article on how to use the possessive form with the plural form, be sure to read “Families or Family’s: When to Use Possessive Form.”

Possessive Singular Form of Customer’s

The possessive singular form of “customers” is very straightforward. We simply add an apostrophe-s to form “customer’s.” Let’s look at a few examples: 

  • I am fulfilling this customer’s request.

In a case where one customer asks you for or about something, that is now your customer’s request. This is still just a singular customer at this point. What about a case where one customer has several orders?

  • Here are the customer’s orders.

This is an excellent example to look at — here we have a singular owner, yet the customer has multiple orders. The number of orders the single customer possesses does not affect the form of the root word, so it is still correct to use “customer’s orders.”

Contraction

Be careful not to assume that every case where you see an apostrophe-s implies possession. See if you notice anything different in this sentence:

  • The customer’s always right.

The apostrophe followed by an “s” is correct here; however, in this instance, it is not denoting the possessive form, but rather the contraction of “the customer is.”

Plural and Possessive Plural Form

Image by Walk via Unsplash

To refer to more than one customer at the same time, we add an -s, making it “customers” (source).

Thankfully, “customer” is what we refer to as a regular noun. This means it conforms to the standard grammatical rules, like pluralization.

There is no limit to how many the plural form refers to; it can represent anything from two of the same thing upwards.

The Plural Form: Customers

Here, we’ve provided a couple of simple examples of the plural form used in sentences:

  • Where are all the customers?
  • The sweets are for customers.

The question in the first sentence implies that not many customers are currently visible, if any at all. It is useful for expressing an expectation that there should be more.

In the second sentence, the plural shows that the object “sweets” are not for any particular person, but they are available for any person qualifying as a “customer.”

Possessive Plural Form: Customers’

Finally, to show that something or multiple things belong to a group, we use the possessive plural form. The most common way to apply this form is by adding an apostrophe to the end of the word, following the “s” (source).

It’s critical to give special attention to the apostrophe’s location since we use the exact opposite order in the possessive form of “customer,” which is why they are often confused with each other.

When there is more than one customer, and we wish to refer to something they possess as a group, we say, “customers’,” as in the following:

  • Our customers’ satisfaction is our top priority.

The satisfaction you seek is specific to your customers; hence, we use the possessive form. It is also not specific to any one customer, thus requiring the possessive plural.

  • Who parked in the customers’ parking?

This is another interesting application of the possessive plural form, where there technically isn’t ownership yet. This example is still correct, though, since the parking is reserved, and it belongs to all customers, both current and future.

  • Our job is handling the customers’ wants and needs.

Like we touched on in the possessive form examples, the number of objects possessed doesn’t necessarily affect what form our root word takes.

Here, we’ve listed two possessions, yet they still belong to the customer base, thus requiring a pluralized possessive form.

This remains true even if the possessions are singular since it is still possible for a group to own something collectively.

Common Mistakes

The multitude of ways that we can use an apostrophe often leads to its misuse. While some of these examples are not specifically based on the possessive or plural possessive forms of “customer,” they are still relevant to our study and important to note.

  • These five customer’s have been waiting for hours.

The form used in this sentence is the possessive form. Based on the information we can glean from the rest of the sentence, it is incorrect — it was supposed to refer to the group of five customers. To correct this, we would rather say, “customers.”

  • I need to resolve three customers requests today.

This sentence is incorrect as it does not assign ownership to the requests; instead, it only pluralizes customers.

There are two correct ways of rewriting this sentence. The reason for their being more than one right way comes down to speaker intention, meaning it is up to the person talking or writing to decide on how they want to phrase their sentence.

You’d be correct in saying “customers’ requests.” It does work with the assumption that there are multiple customers, owing to the fact that there are multiple requests. The apostrophe at the end of the word then denotes the plural possessive form.

Another simpler way of saying this would be “three customer requests.” In this way, we are almost assigning “customer” to “request” as an adjective in that it describes the nature of the requests.

This is acceptable use and is good for when there is ambiguity over whether the owner is in the plural sense.

  • Please serve the customer whose next.

While this example does not specifically deal with “customer” as its root word, it does delve deeper into another use of the apostrophe that is important to know.

“Whose” and “who’s” are often confused. “Who’s” is the contracted form of “who is.” “Whose” is a different word entirely, being an interrogative pronoun determining ownership or responsibility.

In this example, it has incorrectly used as “whose,” where “who’s” would have been correct.

Next, let’s look at a few other contractions with pronouns and nouns.

  • Its’ been very hot this summer.

It is correct for us to use an apostrophe in this case; however, it’s been placed incorrectly.

We use an apostrophe to show contractions and, to make things a bit simpler, the apostrophe is placed in the space where a letter has been omitted.

“It is” is the uncontracted phrase used here. The “i” in “is” is left out in this contraction, with the apostrophe replacing it. This means the correct version of the sentence would be, “It’s been very hot this summer.”

  • “Its raining so hard, my dog doesn’t want to leave it’s bed.”

Possibly the most common mistake of them all — mixing up the contraction “it’s,” meaning “it is,” and the possessive form of “it.”

A helpful tip for deciding on the correct form is to read every instance as “it is.” If it makes sense, then add the apostrophe, but if it doesn’t, then leave it out.

The corrected version of this example is, “It’s raining so hard that my dog doesn’t want to leave its bed.”

  • Your welcome!

Similar to the above mistake, writers often misuse “your” and “you’re.” “Your” is the possessive form of “you.” “You’re” is the contracted form of “you are.” In the case of this common phrase, we mean to say that you are welcome, so “you’re welcome” is correct.

  • I was going to my neighbor’s for dinner; the Luises pot roast is delicious!

When showing possession, you need to take certain things into consideration, with the final letter being one of them. Here, we want to refer to a couple that lives next door that shares the surname, Luis. 

We first need to pluralize the surname since we are referring to them both at the same time. Proper nouns are a minefield of rules and exceptions, with many families simply deciding for themselves how best to pluralize their names.

In general, though, when a word ends in “s” and needs to be pluralized, we’d add -es, making it “Luises” as seen in our example.

However, we still need to assign ownership of the pot roast, which is done through a possessive apostrophe, resulting in “Luises’ pot roast” being correct.

If your neighbors were uncomfortable with that, other common interpretations are “Luis’s” or “Luis’.”

  • The customer is looking for something that looks like it’s from the 80’s.

As a general rule, apostrophes don’t get used at the ends of numbers, whether that be for pluralization or possession.

The exception to this rule is also the second reason why our example is incorrect — when abbreviating a date, specifically leaving the first two numbers off of a year, we do use an apostrophe to show this.

The correct usage in our example would then be “‘80s.”

Image by Pexels via Pixabay

Final Thoughts

With a better understanding of the various forms of the word “customer,” you can confidently pluralize and show possession.

As a simple tip to remember which form to use, here is a set of questions to ask yourself: First, are you referring to just one customer? If yes, then you need only use the singular version.

Next, ask yourself if you are referring to that one customer’s belongings? If yes, then you should use the singular possessive form. If there is more than one customer you need to refer to, then use the plural, “customers.”

Finally, decide if you are referring to a shared possession of a group of customers. If you are, then the plural possessive form is what you need. Remember to use the possessive apostrophe correctly!