Parent’s or Parents’: When to use the Possessive or Plural Possessive

Proper grammar usage can be confusing, especially when it comes to using nouns in context. There are many ways to use the root word parent, but there are specific rules for when one can use either the possessive parent’s or the plural possessive parents’.

Use parent’s when the word is being used to denote ownership or possession in the singular form, as in the parent’s house. Parents’ is used in the plural form for both parents, so there is an apostrophe after the letter -s, as in parents’ house. This is because the word is first pluralized to parents with the addition of the letter -s and then cannot have another -s added to show possession, thus an apostrophe is added in front of the whole. 

In summary;

‘It is my parent’s house.’ – Ownership based on one – either mother or father, the word is singular and is inflected to show possession.

‘I am going to my parents’ house – Parents is in the plural form

In most cases, this is not proper English. However, this example should provide a clear context for use.

To know which of the noun’s forms to use, parents or parent’s, one has to consider the role of the word within the sentence. In the two instances of parents’ or parent’s, the word can be used in either its singular possessive or its plural possessive form.

Dreyer’s English style guide can help you understand the nuances of the English language in creative and entertaining ways. You can find it on Amazon.

Determining Which Form to Use: Parent’s or Parents

For our purpose, the distinction between which form to use in which situation, it might be helpful to acknowledge that this may have started from infancy. In later years, there could be a certain relapse to those language foundations formed at infancy and throughout one’s childhood.

In that case, getting back to the question of which form of the word to use; parents’ or parent’s? It is now clearer that there is a need to understand the context in which the word is being used.

Linguistic Development from Childhood

From the onset, when one acquires language at infancy, there is a universal development of language structure that they go through. For example, it has been noted that in some bilingual children, there are certain elements of language structures that they mix or learn the same way.

Linguists say that they have found it rather surprising that across both languages, the child would develop along the same patterns as established in monolingual children. For instance, children typically find it difficult to differentiate noun pluralism and verbal agreement in sentences, (source). In this case, a child would usually say;

 ‘My parent’s been sitting all day,’ in which the tense and verbal agreement would not be correct.

Linguists have explained that language development in children is for the greater part acquired through interaction -the interactionist theory, or through natural development that is internalized. The latter perhaps aptly explains why language development becomes uniform despite the language a child is learning.

They further posit that language may also be developed as a result of a parental input mechanism. In this case, a child whose parents do not actively help out in their speech development is bound to learn the principles of grammar and language dynamics at a slower rate than the one with fully involved parents (source).

Origins of the uninflected word Parent

Perhaps to get to the bottom of why the word may be so confusing, there is a need to look at its origins. Parent is originally a surname from the late 12th century and later became a noun meaning ‘father, relative or kin’ in Old French of the 11th century.

It is believed to have been derived from the Latin word ‘parentem’ which is nominative of ‘parens’ which mean ‘father or mother or ancestor.’ After the 16th century, the word began to take on more of the meanings to ‘produce, bring forth or give birth,’ which essentially referred to one’s origins.

In current English, a parent is either of the two responsible for one’s birth; mother or father. When talking about both, there is the letter -s that is added to the root word parent. This would be the plural form of the word as in;

 ‘My parents have been sitting in the diner all day and both seemed comfortable with the waiting.’

This means that when referring to one of them, the -s is absent. However, there are very few instances in which one uses the word ‘parent’ when referring to the singular of them.

It would either be mother or father. Thus the irregular usage of the word parent may be a possible explanation for the mix-up between the plural form of the word and its other inflections. In most cases, an individual uses the word parent as a form to express action by or on both mother and father.

The inflected parent’s is a result of a possessive reference. The root word parent for the singular of the two, when describing possession will then get an -s inflection with an apostrophe to show the owner of something, ownership is thus the guiding principle in the use of the letter -s in parent’s.

Final Thoughts

The next time you find yourself wondering how to place the word parent in its right form in a sentence, consider the context. Think about how the word is being affected; is it showing a plural form or is it showing a possessive form?

Also consider the relationship of the word to the rest of the sentence so that when -s is added for the plural form, it would be grammatically correct in terms of noun and verbal agreement.

The apostrophe is added only for possessive inflections and may be used either before or after the letter -s depending on whether talking about the singular or plural of the root word ‘parent.’

Recent Content