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Nations or Nation’s: What is the Plural of Nations?

We consider patriotism a virtue, and many schools still teach this character trait alongside others like patience, gratitude, and kindness. However, when discussing their nation, many schoolchildren might be confused by one simple question: should it be nations or nation’s?

Use the plural noun “nations,” with no apostrophe when discussing more than one national territory or people group. Apostrophes signify the possessive form of a noun, meaning you should only use this punctuation when showing a nation’s ownership over another object making “nation’s” incorrect.

In this article, I’ll discuss in-depth the difference between possessive and plural nouns. Read on to learn more about this easy, useful grammatical rule!

What Kind of Noun Is “Nation?”

“Nation” is a common, countable noun. Common nouns are nouns that don’t refer to any specific place or person; instead, they refer to the concept as a whole. Unless we place them at the start of a new sentence, these words are lower-cased. 

“Nation” as a Common Noun

Anyone learning the ropes of the English language will be happy to know that this word is a fairly easy one, generally following the most conventional rules of standard English grammar.

Common noun

  • Despite political turmoil, the nation gathered together to celebrate the national holiday.

Proper noun:

  •  Fourth of July is a popular holiday in America

When we modify the common nouns “nation” and “holiday” to become more specific, they become proper nouns that we capitalize as a result.

“Nation” as a Countable Noun

As the name would suggest, countable nouns are nouns that we can easily count. We can present these terms as either singular or plural, depending on the number of nouns we’re discussing.

By contrast, uncountable or “mass nouns” represent vague concepts that are difficult to count, meaning they are often more difficult to define as either “singular” or “plural.”

For example, while “nation” is a countable noun, “patriotism” is a far more abstract concept, making it uncountable.

While you can easily describe either one or several nations, you would struggle to describe several “patriotisms.” To learn more about the specific rules that surround countable and uncountable nouns, read our detailed article on the subject: “Advice or Advices: Can Advice be Plural?

Does “Nations” Have an Apostrophe?

Image by Kyle Glenn via Unsplash

Nation does not have an apostrophe. Since “nation” is a countable noun, we can easily make it plural with the addition of an “s.” If you’re discussing multiple parts of the world, you should use this “s” without an apostrophe. 

Example:

  • Travelers tend to enjoy learning about different nations.
  • The nations all follow their own laws and regulations.
  • All the nations gathered together to solve worldwide problems. 

If your goal is to discuss multiple different parts of the world without showing ownership, you should skip the use of an apostrophe. While an apostrophe indicates the possessive form of a noun, an “s,” “es,” or “ies” shows plurality.  

Nouns come in two different forms: singular and plural. In most cases, you can easily show a noun’s plural form with the addition of either an “s” or “es,” but occasionally, this rule is complicated by irregular plural nouns. 

Read on to learn more about the difference between these forms and how to know when you’re on the right track!

Singular vs. Plural Nouns

When speaking or writing, you can indicate there is a single person, place, thing, or idea by simply saying the noun as you normally would. If you’re discussing more than one noun, however, you should signify the addition of other objects through the use of an “s,” “es,” or “ies.”

Look below to see an example:

  • Do you know if every nation has a national church?
  • Many different nations support different religions and churches.

However, the problem now arises: how do you know whether you should use an “s,” “es,” or “ies” to express the plural version of any given noun?

There is a simple rule that will help remove any confusion: if a noun naturally ends in “s,” “x,” “ch,” “sh,” or “o,” you will signify plurality by using an “es” instead. To make a noun that ends in “y” plural, you should add “ies” (source).

In the previous example, we can make the word “nation” plural by simply adding an “s.” However, because the word “church” ends in the letters “ch,” you should add an “es” instead. Doing so helps the word flow more easily when speaking it aloud.

To see this rule in action, read over this brief chart:

Singular FormPlural Form
I fed my cat her dinner.I fed my cats their dinner.
Did the kid put her toy away?Did the kids put their toys away?
She enjoyed her time in the class.She enjoyed the time in her classes.
The wax the car wash used is amazing.The waxes that the car washes used were amazing. 
The baby cried to be held.The babies cried to be held.

What Is the Possessive Form of Nation?

The possessive form of “nation” is “nation’s.” When discussing a single nation that has possession over something else, you should use an apostrophe before the “s” to change this term to its possessive form. For instance, you might discuss “a nation’s culture” or “a nation’s language.”

You’ll be glad to know that the rules around possessive nouns are usually very straightforward. However, what if we’re referring to more than one nation. In other words, what is the plural possessive form of “nation”?

What Is the Plural Possessive Form of Nation?

The plural possessive form of nation is nations’. When discussing more than one nation’s language or culture, you should use the apostrophe after the “s.” This applies to most nouns that are plural and already end in an “s” — you can show possession by moving the apostrophe to the end of the plural noun, after the “s.” 

The plural possessive form of “nation” is easy to show using an apostrophe after the “s,” becoming -s’.  For example, when discussing “the nations’ languages,” notice how you only have to move the apostrophe over slightly to clarify that you are discussing multiple nations. Look at a few of these examples below.

Singular Possessive

  • The nation’s educational system is rigorous, with great results.

Plural Possessive

  • The nations’ educational systems differ regarding academic priorities.

Because, in the first example, there is clearly only one “nation,” you must add an apostrophe before the “s” to indicate the education system belongs to it.

In the second example, there are multiple nations that have their unique way of educating their populations. To clarify that you are discussing multiple nations, you add the apostrophe after the “s.”

Even if a noun naturally ends in “s,” you still can show possession through the possible addition of an “s” and an apostrophe wherever appropriate. 

Examples of this include:

  • Her class’s average score on the test was high.
  • The Jones’ house is lovely.

As you can see, even though “class” and “Jones” already end in “s,” we can easily make them possessive through the same rules that govern other nouns. 

Are There Any Exceptions?

There are only a few exceptions to this general policy. Luckily, the first exception to this rule, while interesting, does not in any way affect the word “nation!”  Instead, this rule dictates how you might show possession in words already ending in “s.”

This rule is rare and slightly complicated. In some cases, if you are discussing a singular possessive noun that already ends in “s,” and another word beginning with “s” follows it, you may add the apostrophe without the addition of another “s” in Associated Press (AP) Style.

We might make this change for clarity and to avoid the audible hissing created by back-to-back “s” sounds. However, applying this rule depends on whether you follow AP format or the Chicago Manual format (source).

If you feel slightly confused here, you aren’t alone.  Let’s look at a few examples to see how this rule plays out in writing. 

Associated Press Style: 

  • When they announced Honduras’ score, the crowd erupted in cheers.

The Chicago Manual of Style: 

  • When they announced Honduras’s score, the crowd erupted in cheers.

We’re changing “Honduras” to a singular possessive noun in each example. However, under the guidelines for AP style, it’s unnecessary to add an additional “s.” In contrast, the Chicago Manual of Style guidelines recommend the addition “s” after the apostrophe.

Attributive vs. Plural Possessive Nouns

To fully understand some of the most specific nuances in possessive nouns, it’s helpful to know the difference between possessive nouns and attributive nouns. 

Attributive nouns are nouns that function as adjectives, modifying other nouns. We typically use these nouns to form proper names meant to show the unification of a group.  

For example, many often use “teachers,” “United States,” and “United Nations” as attribute nouns when they come before another noun, as in “teachers union” (source). 

However, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, when making nouns like “The United States” and “United Nations” possessive, you should place the apostrophe after the final “s” without adding another.

We treat these particular proper nouns this way because they are plural in form, though they are singular nouns (CMOS 7.20). However, the Chicago Manual also allows us to omit the apostrophe for proper nouns.

  • Did the United Nations’ conference end as hoped?
  • Did the United Nations conference end as hoped?

You can follow the same logic when discussing the United States. Because the United States derives its name from how it unites various states, you could say “The United States’ Congress,” but you could also say “United States Congress.”

Irregular Plural Nouns

While most nouns fall under the easy “s,” “es,” or “ies” rule, you may occasionally encounter irregular plural nouns. Irregular plural nouns follow their own, slightly more complicated set of rules. Don’t worry, though! With a little practice, these irregular plural nouns will seem second nature.

The chart below explains how you can easily decide how to change your irregular nouns from singular to plural forms (source).

Noun TypePlural RuleExamples
Ends in -feChange fe to v, then add an s“Wife” becomes “wives.”“Life” becomes “lives.”
Ends in -fChange f to v, then add ed“Wolf” becomes “wolves.”“Half” becomes “halves.”
Ends in -usChange us to i“Cactus” becomes “cacti.”“Focus” becomes “foci.”
Ends with -isChange is to es“Analysis” becomes “analyses.”“Crisis” becomes “crises.”
Ends with -onChange on to a“Phenomenon” becomes “phenomena.”“Criterion” becomes “criteria.”

Even beyond the nouns that we can cover using a simple chart, others still manage to follow their own rules entirely. For example, the word “man” only becomes plural after changing it to “men.” Similarly, the singular “child” becomes the plural “children.”

Other examples of these highly irregular plural nouns include:

  • “Tooth,” which becomes “teeth.”
  • “Foot,” which becomes “feet.”
  • “Mouse,” which becomes “mice.”
  • “Person,” which becomes “people.”

Other nouns manage to become plural without any change whatsoever, like “sheep,” “deer,” and occasionally “fish.” Thus, the only way to truly master the art of this otherwise easy grammatical skill is through time, practice, and plenty of patience.

Irregular Plural Nouns and the Plural Possessive

The other exception to the rule of simply adding apostrophe “s” to a plural possessive noun comes when dealing with those stubborn, irregular plural nouns. 

Even though an irregular noun is already plural, you should show the possessive form of the word by adding an apostrophe before the “s,” as you would with a singular noun (source).

  • The children’s choir worked hard to achieve that powerful sound.
  • The men’s group meets next door on Wednesdays for study.
  • The exterminator took care to remove the mice’s nest from my house.  

Because we made these nouns plural without an additional “s,” you don’t need to use the apostrophe after the “s” to form the plural possessive. 

The Etymology of the Word Nation

The word “nation” as we use it today derives from the Old French word nacion, meaning “birth, descendants, or rank.”  

This word originally described family ties and ethnicity rather than bonds formed through common principles, laws, or borders. Slowly, as families began to branch out more and more, the meaning of this word transformed to indicate people linked by location rather than by bloodline.

As Middle English came into its own and as England began to assert itself in the world, the word “nation” began to take on a political meaning. “Nation” no longer meant the family you were born into; it became the family you would choose through a sense of organized community (source).

As the term changed, so did the attitude we began to associate with it. In Modern English, a nation isn’t simply a group of people. It carries with it a sense of patriotism, community, and loyalty to a cause greater than oneself.  This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

The word inherently carries with it a sense of pride and ownership. To learn more about the fascinating implications of this word, check out our article, “Country vs. Nation: Similarities and Differences.” 

Final Thoughts

The rules surrounding what makes a noun possessive, plural, or plural possessive may seem easy on the surface, but as with all elements of language, there is more there than might initially meet the eye. 

Luckily, the word “nation” is easy to change from one form to another, making it a great base-point from which to learn all you need to know!

When discussing a “nation’s language,” you should use an apostrophe as a way to indicate ownership. Without the use of that apostrophe, you show its simple plural form.