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Students’ or Student’s: Differentiating Plural and Plural Possessive

In any language, when you have the right tools, you can express almost anything. Making plurals and showing ownership in English are both subject to several rules, which leads to our discussion on when to use “students’” and when you should rather use “student’s.”

Student’s is the singular form of the possessive noun student, referring to something a single student owns. Students’ is the plural form of the possessive noun and refers to something multiple students own. When referring to someone studying at an institution, we call them a student, and when there is more than one of them, they are students.

In this article, we’ll examine the use of the apostrophe and why it can cause so much confusion.

We will explore singular and plural nouns so that we’re clear on whether we’re talking about students in plural or singular. We’ll also look at the rules that determine singular and plural possessive nouns and the exceptions to those rules. 

What’s the Difference Between Students’ and Student’s?

To understand the difference between “students’” and “student’s,” let’s look at some examples that illustrate this best. 

StudentSingular nounThe student signed up for my class.
StudentsPlural nounThe students signed up for my class.
Student’sSingular possessiveThe student’s paper received the highest grade.
Students’ Plural possessiveThe students’ papers were all above average.

It should be clear from this table what the meanings are of  “students’” vs. “student’s” and when to use each of them. In two of the above examples, we can use an apostrophe either before or after the “s,” which can easily cause confusion. To alleviate this, let’s discuss the function of apostrophes.

The Possessive Form and Apostrophes

Apostrophes have many uses, and one of the most common is to show possession. To clarify apostrophe use, we can turn the sentence around and create an “of” phrase (source):

  • The student’s hat = the hat of the student
  • The woman’s coat = the coat of the women
  • The cat’s paw = the paw of the cat

The table below demonstrates the different ways we can use apostrophes to indicate possession.

Apostrophe WhenExamples
‘sSingular noun (even those ending in -s)The student’s life was in danger.
Jess’s car is parked around the corner.
The octopus’s legs are tangled in seaweed.
‘sPlurals that don’t end in -sThe geese’s goslings are going to drown.
The men’s cigars are in the box.
The fish’s scales are very slimy.
Plurals that end in -sThe students’ papers are on my desk.
The girls’ legs were badly burned.
The friends’ lives are intertwined.

When deciding where to place the apostrophe in “students,” it’s essential to know whether you are talking about one student or more than one. If it’s singular, then the choice will be “student’s,” and if you’re talking about more than one, then the choice will be “students’.”

You need to understand if you are using possessive forms because apostrophes have two other uses that could be confusing. We outline these below.

To Show Omission of Letters

In contractions, we omit certain letters to make words flow more easily. In these cases, we use apostrophes to show where we’ve omitted the letters.

  • Do not → don’t
  • I am → I’m
  • Should not → shouldn’t

To Form Plurals of Letters, Numbers, and Symbols 

We don’t use apostrophes to form plurals except in the case of letters, numbers, and symbols. 

  • Jack is used to seeing a report full of A’s.
  • There are three 4’s in my phone number.
  • I prefer if you don’t use too many @’s in your report.

Importantly, we should never use apostrophes to make any other plurals or form possessive pronouns. Possessive pronouns such as “his,” “hers,” “its,” “yours,” etc., never use an apostrophe.

Singular and Plural

Before we dive into the possessive form, let’s first consider singular and plural nouns. You probably already know that we can make most singular nouns into plurals simply by adding an “s” at the end, like the examples below.

  • Student → students
  • Dog → dogs
  • Shirt → shirts
  • Bowl → bowls

However, not all words merely take an “s,” and you’ll simply have to learn some of these exceptions. We explain the most common exceptions below. 

Words That End in -s, -ss, -sh, -ch, x, or z

In these cases, we then add -es to the end of the word, like the examples below.

  • Bus → buses
  • Pass → passes
  • Marsh → marshes
  • Branch → branches
  • Tax → taxes
  • Klutz → klutzes

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, and we sometimes need to double the final letter for certain words ending in -z or -s before adding the -es, as we show below.

  • Gas → gasses
  • Fez → fezzes

Words That End in -f or -fe

In these cases, we mostly substitute the -f or -fe for -ve before adding an “s” as in the following.

  • Knife → knives
  • Calf → calves

This rule also has some exceptions, so you must learn these.

  • Roof → roofs
  • Belief → beliefs
  • Chief → chiefs

Words That End in -y

Words that end in -y preceded by a consonant replace the -y with -ies to make a plural.

  • City → cities
  • Party → parties
  • Kitty → kitties

Words that end in -y preceded by a vowel simply add -s to make a plural.

  • Tray → trays
  • Relay → relays

Words That End in -o 

These words add -es to the word to create a plural.

  • Potato → potatoes
  • Tomato → tomatoes

Again, there are exceptions to this rule that you must learn. These include the following.

  • Halo → halos
  • Piano → pianos
  • Photo → photos
Image by Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

Now that we’ve covered the basics of singular and plural nouns, let’s consider how we go about showing ownership of those nouns. 

Possessive Nouns

We use possessive nouns to signify ownership, and the rules vary depending on whether the noun we’re describing is singular or plural.

Singular Possessive Nouns

We usually add -‘s to singular nouns to demonstrate possession, as in the examples below (source).

  • That is Sharon’s car.
  • The dog’s collar is blue.
  • The student’s pen is missing.

In these examples, there is just one Sharon, one dog, and one student. Returning to our title, “student’s” is the singular possessive form of “student.”

Plural Possessive Nouns

We usually add just an apostrophe to plural nouns that end in -s. 

  • The dogs’ collars are blue.
  • Those cars’ windshields are all broken.
  • The students’ bags are missing.

There is more than one dog, car, and student in these examples; therefore, they are all plurals. “Students’” is, therefore, the plural possessive form of “student.”

Not all plurals end in -s, and in these irregular cases, we add -’s to show possession (source).

  • The women’s coats were all red.
  • The children’s shoes are all over the garden.
  • The people’s award went to Jack.

The more you see English written and hear it spoken, the easier it will be to work out which plurals and possessives are appropriate. You can read about similar possessive questions in our articles dealing with week’s or weeks’ and children’s or childrens’.

Student Defined

With all this discussion of students, let’s clarify what a student is. Both American and British English classify a student as someone who is learning, especially at a university or college. However, American English stretches this definition to include those who are studying at school (source). 

  • My students are never late for class.
  • She is a student at Princeton University.
  • The history students went on a tour of Egypt.

We could also describe someone with a particular interest in a subject as a “student” of that subject, even if they’re not formally studying it. To understand that context, consider the examples below.

  • She loves to work in the garden and is a student of the outdoors.
  • As a teacher, I’ve become a student of human nature.

Etymology of Student

The word “student” comes from the Old French word estudiant, which translates as “one who is studying” and has its roots in the Latin word studiare (to study). 

There are various synonyms for “student” that you can use, depending on context. If we are speaking about someone who is formally engaged in studying, we could refer to them as a “scholar” or “pupil.” We could also be specific about how far they are with their studies and refer to a “freshman,” “senior,” or “graduate.”

In the context of someone with a particular interest in something and who is not formally studying, we could use synonyms such as “disciple” or “studier.”

How to Use Student’s and Students’

Now that we’ve discussed the singular and plural possessive forms, we need to cover how to use these in conversation.

Each Student’s or Each Students’?

“Each” refers to all members of a group individually. When using “each” as a determiner for a sentence’s subject, we always follow it with a singular noun and a singular verb, as we demonstrate below.

  • Each student’s score will be considered in determining the winner.
  • Before class, the teacher took each student’s temperature.
  • Each student’s bag sat outside the lecture hall.

We would never use “each students’” in any context. However, we often follow “each” with a prepositional phrase that ends in a plural, such as “each of the students.” This is no longer a possessive form, but don’t let it confuse you — “each” is still singular and takes a singular verb, as in the following (source).

  • Each of the students is responsible for meeting the deadline.
  • Each of the students has a special place in my heart.

Your Student’s or Your Students’

When using “your,” I am referring to something that belongs to you. If I say “your student,” then I am talking about your one student. If I say “your students,” then I am referring to all of your students.

Likewise, in the possessive form, the use of “your student’s” vs. “your students’” will depend on whether “student” is in the singular or plural. Consider the examples below to illustrate this.

  • Have you finished marking your student’s work? (one particular student)
  • Have you finished marking your students’ work? (all students)
  • Do you know your student’s home address? (one particular student)
  • Do you know your students’ home addresses? (all students)
  • Your student’s file should be in the cabinet by the window. (one particular student)
  • Your students’ files should be in the cabinet by the window. (all students)

The Student’s or The Students’

Again, when using the article “the” followed by a possessive form, it will depend on whether we are talking about one student or many students. Consider the examples below.

  • The student’s room is unlocked.
  • The students’ room is unlocked.

If the room belongs to just one student, then we will use the singular possessive. But, if the same room belongs to two or more students, then we will use the plural possessive. 

  • The student’s papers have been graded.
  • The students’ papers have been graded.

Here, if one student has many papers awaiting a grade, we will use the singular possessive because, although there are many papers, there is still just one student. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

And, if there are many students with many papers for the teacher to grade, then we will use the plural possessive to show that the papers belong to more than one student.

Final Thoughts

It’s key to know whether you are dealing with a singular or plural noun when deciding what form of the possessive to use. Once you know if you’re talking about one item or more, one student or two, then you can decide how to show possession.

There are exceptions, but, broadly speaking, we add -’s to singular nouns, and we add just an apostrophe to plurals that end in “s” to create the possessive form. This is the case with the noun “student,” and as you are all students of English, you need to know how to treat it. 

We believe teachers should support each student’s study to encourage their students’ aspirations!