Confusion sometimes arises between plural and possessive forms because they can seem similar. However, if you are clear on the rules that govern these two grammatical terms, then it becomes easier to know which is which and where to place your apostrophe. This is certainly the case with “employee’s” vs. “employees’.”
“Employee’s” is the singular possessive form and refers to something that a single employee owns. If there is more than one employee, we refer to them as “employees,” and we use the plural possessive form “employees’” to refer to something multiple employees own. When we refer to an employee, we mean someone who is paid to work for someone else.
This article will explore plural and possessive forms so that we’re quite clear on whether we’re talking about one employee or many employees and can show ownership of both. We’ll also examine the tricky apostrophe and provide some guidelines on how to use it and where to place it.
Employee’s or Employees’?
To understand the basic difference between employee’s or employees’ grammar, we should consider examples that illustrate the various uses of the word in the singular, plural, and possessive forms.
|Employee||Singular noun||The employee works at the head office.|
|Employees||Plural noun||The employees work at the head office.|
|Employee’s||Singular possessive||The employee’s car is parked at the head office.|
|Employees’||Plural possessive||The employees’ cars are parked at the head office.|
This table clearly shows how nouns like “employee” function in the singular, plural, and possessive forms. So let’s start with singular vs. plural and dive into a quick discussion on forming plurals with English nouns.
The first basic principle is to understand plurals so that we’re clear on what is the plural form of “employee” and other nouns.
As you will know, nouns are naming words for people, places, or things. Most English nouns are “count nouns,” meaning we can count them, and they have singular and plural forms (source).
Non-count nouns are more unusual and describe abstract qualities or masses that we cannot separate and count, such as “love,” “work,” or “water.”
“Employee” is a count noun that refers to a person who works for an organization or individual, and they pay them to do so. Most often, we make count nouns plural by simply adding an “s” at the end of the word, as in the examples below.
- Employee → employees
- Cat → cats
- Shoe → shoes
- Leg → legs
It isn’t always that simple, though, and there are many exceptions that you will encounter. We summarize the ones that follow a pattern in the table below.
|Words that end in -s, -ss, -sh, -ch, x, or oRule: we add -es||Flash → flashesRich → richesBox → boxesGas → gasesClass → classesTomato → tomatoes|
|Words that end in a consonant cluster including -y|
Rule: we replace -y with -ies
|City → citiesBerry → berriesBunny → bunniesSky → skies|
|Words that end in -f or -fe|
Rule: we replace -f/fe with -ves
|Elf → elvesSelf → selvesKnife → knives|
There are, of course, some exceptions that don’t follow any pattern, and you’ll just have to learn them (source). Some of the most common are in the list below.
- Roof → roofs
- Photo → photos
- Man → men
- Woman → women
- Foot → feet
- Child → children
- Fish → fish
As the plural of “employee,” you may ask, “How do you use ‘employees’ in a sentence?” Below are some examples that should clarify this.
- My company has 1,500 employees.
- The employees all signed performance contracts.
- She likes to be treated differently from the other employees.
Employee Possessive and Plural Possessive Form
The possessive form of English nouns demonstrates ownership of something. It is relatively simple to master because it follows very specific rules.
All of these include using an apostrophe, which is where many students get confused. However, if you follow the simple rules we summarized in the table below, you should never go wrong with the possessive form.
|‘s||Singular noun (even those ending in -s)||The employee’s coat was at his desk.Ross’s aunt is coming for tea.The cat’s whiskers are very long.|
|‘s||Plurals that don’t end in -s||The women’s coats were on the chair.The children’s results were very good.Pollution destroyed the fish’s habitat.|
|‘||Plurals that end in -s||The employees’ coats were at their desks.The dogs’ owner has gone away. The boys’ shoes were all by the door.|
So now you should have no doubt how to write and use employees’ plural possessive form and employee’s singular possessive form.
Having mastered the possessive forms of “employee,” let’s now consider their definitions. What does “employee’s” mean, and what does “employees’” mean? If you’re unsure, remember that you can always turn possessive around to create an “of” sentence, as we show below:
- The employee’s book = the book of the employee
- The employees’ books = the books of the employees
Therefore, “employee’s” specifically refers to something that belongs to the employee the sentence refers to. “Employees’,” on the other hand, refers to something that belongs to more than one employee. Here, there could be multiple items — in this example, books — or it could be one thing that two or more employees own together, such as “the employees’ house.”
For further reading on the possessive form, see the articles “Class’s or Class’: Singular, Plural, and Possessive”and “Week’s or Weeks’: Singular, Plural, and Possessive.”
The possessive forms both make use of an apostrophe, either before or after the “s,” which is where most confusion lies. Let’s delve into the apostrophe and examine the rules that govern its use.
The apostrophe has three main uses (source):
- Making possessive nouns
- Showing the omission of letters
- Indicating plurals of letters, numbers, and symbols
Considering this, you may ask, “Is there an apostrophe in ‘employees’?” From reading about plurals and possessives, you will know that there is an apostrophe in the possessive forms of “employees,” but not when it’s only in the plural form and not possessive.
Making Possessive Nouns
When deciding where to place the apostrophe, you must know whether you are talking about one employee or many employees. If it’s singular, then you will choose “employee’s,” and if it’s plural, then your choice will be “employees’.”
Speaking of one employee, we will refer to “the employee’s desk.” But, if we’re speaking about two or more employees who share that same desk, then we will refer to “the employees’ desk.”
Indicating Plurals of Letters, Numbers, and Symbols
We never use an apostrophe in plurals unless it’s for letters, numbers, or symbols. This is one of the most common mistakes made in written English, so try to remember this rule.
The following are examples of how we use an apostrophe in select plurals:
- My daughter will be upset with the C’s on her report.
- There are four 5’s in my social security number.
- Instead of typing swear words, people often use *’s and &’s.
There is one exception to this rule, and that is the use of apostrophes to avoid confusion, especially if the plural word may look like another word. This would happen in an example such as the following:
- She made a long list of the do’s and don’ts of parenthood.
Here, the plural “dos” might trip up a reader, so it is helpful to use the apostrophe.
Showing the Omission of Letters
The only other time that we use apostrophes is to show the omission of letters or numbers. We do this in two ways: firstly, to show that we’ve left out letters to form a contraction and, secondly, to show letters or numbers that we’ve omitted when spelling out words as someone spoke them.
We generally use contractions to make words flow more easily when speaking or writing informally, and apostrophes show where we’ve omitted letters, as in the examples below.
- Can not → can’t
- She is → she’s
- Would not → wouldn’t
In the case of spelling words as someone spoke them, the following examples illustrate the point.
- Class of ‘21 (omitting the “20” in 2021)
- Runnin’ on empty (omitting the “g” in running)
- All of ‘em (omitting the “th” in them)
So, can we use an apostrophe with “employee” to form a contraction? Yes, we can — at least informally or to write something the way someone said it. For example, if we say employee + is/has, we could say “employee’s,” as we’ve illustrated below.
- Her employee is giving her a hard time.
- Her employee’s giving her a hard time.
- Her employee has taken the day off today.
- Her employee’s taken the day off today.
We can only use this kind of contraction for spoken or informal English. When writing formally, we would rather write out the two words.
Meaning of Employee
Now that you’ve grasped the plural and possessive forms of “employee,” let’s dig a little deeper into the meaning of the word. Dating back to 1850, it’s a relatively new word that originates from the French employé (source). It broadly describes any person receiving pay to work for someone else.
Synonyms for “employee” include:
- Staff member
- Wage earner
In contrast, an “employer” employs the employee. This describes the person or organization that an employee works for and pays wages or salaries to employees.
Using Determiners With “Employee”
As a common count noun, there are hundreds of ways to use the word “employee,” but we’re going to examine how it functions with determiners. Determiners are clarifying words that give more information about the noun.
We summarize the various types of determiners in the table below.
|Type||Example||Used in a Sentence|
|Definite article||the||The employee works in the marketing department.|
|Indefinite article||a/an||An employee gave me directions to your office.|
|Quantifier||All, many, enough, etc.||Many employees will find the conditions unacceptable.|
|Demonstrative||This, that, these, those||This employee reported your misconduct.These employees reported your misconduct.|
|Numbers||One, two, first, second, etc.||One employee was selected to join the panel.She was the second employee to join the panel.|
|Distributives||Each, half, both, etc.||Each employee received a Christmas bonus.|
|Possessives||My, mine, yours, his, etc.||His employees are the top performers.My employee forgot to lock the office.|
|Difference Words||Other, another||The other employee was not as lucky.|
|Defining Words||Which, whose||This is the employee whose car you scraped.|
You will notice that some determiners require using singular nouns, and others need to accept plurals. What about when using the quantitative determiner “all”? How do we determine how to use “all employee” or “all employees” grammar?
All Employee or Employees?
“All” means “every one” or “the total number,” and we place it before a noun to specify quantity (source). Because we are talking about “the total number,” we are therefore talking about more than one employee and would use the plural “all employees” and not “all employee.” Consider the examples below.
- All employees must report to the office at 5 p.m. today.
- I have asked all employees to join us at the charity drive.
- Are all employees invited to the Christmas party?
We often combine “all” with an article, possessive or demonstrative pronoun, or a number to give further information, as in the following examples.
- All the employees were late for work. (article: the)
- All my employees must please report to reception. (possessive pronoun: my)
- All those employees went home early. (demonstrative pronoun: those)
- All three employees were nominated for an award. (number: three)
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
One situation where you would use “all employee” would be when you’re using “employee” as an attributive noun.
- You must work 40 hours a week to qualify for all employee benefits.
Once you know what an employee is, you need to know if you’re dealing with one employee or two or more employees. Knowing if your noun is singular or plural will allow you to determine whether you use singular or plural possessive forms to speak about something that belongs to that employee or those employees.
Most often, if you see -‘s at the end of a word, it’s singular possessive, and an apostrophe after an “s” signals plural possessive. This is how grammar works with the noun “employee,” and it’s worth remembering because, one day, almost all of us will be somebody’s employee!