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Universities vs. University’s: Understanding the Difference between Plural and Possessive

The plural and possessive noun forms are both crucial components in the English language. As such, it’s essential to know how to distinguish between a plural and a possessive so that you can communicate effectively, as illustrated in the difference between “universities” vs. “university’s.”

When considering the two forms, “universities” or “university’s, “universities,” is in the plural form, while the variation “university’s” indicates the singular, possessive form. We only use “universities” when referring to more than one institution, while only using “university’s” when indicating something belonging to a single institution.

Understanding how we form plurals and possessives is crucial to recognize a word as either a plural, a possessive, or a possessive plural.

Using the Plural: Universities

“Universities” is a plural noun, meaning it’s a word or term indicating more than one thing. Most commonly, we add an “-s” or an “-es” to the end of a word to make it plural; however, there are additional rules for forming plurals.

There are two rules to remember when turning the singular “university” into the plural form “universities” since it ends in a -y.

In English, if we want to change a noun ending -y to a plural, either add an -s or an -ies. The suffix it adopts depends on whether the letter that comes before the -y is a consonant or a vowel.

If the letter before the -y is one of the five vowels (a,e, i, o u), then the noun adopts the suffix -s, as in the following examples.

monkey– monkeys

key – keys

essay – essays

“Universities” follows the rule that nouns ending in -y and directly preceded by a consonant will end in -ies. A consonant is every letter in the alphabet other than “a,” “e,” “i,” “o,” and “u.”

university – universities


Key Examples

Now that we’ve reviewed the rules, let’s look at some examples of how we can use “university” in singular and plural forms.

Example One

Cambridge is a university in England

In this example, the term “university” is singular as it refers to one university, namely, Cambridge University.

Example Two

Oxford and Cambridge are universities in England

In this example, the term “universities” is plural because we are referring to more than one university — two, in this case.

Example Three

Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia universities are all Ivy League Universities.

In this example, we referred to five institutions, so we use the plural form “universities.”

Example Four

I go to Harvard University, and my brother goes to Brown University

While this sentence references two universities, Harvard and Brown, we keep the term singular because there are two separate subjects and objects.

While examining the rules of plurals in general, you should always keep in mind that there are still exceptions that you’ll most often have to commit to memory.

Plural Form Rules

Below is a table on the plural form rules that you can reference.

Regular NounsAdd an -scat – cats
Nouns that end in ‑s, -ss, -sh, -ch, -x, or -zAdd an -es
*Exceptions include some words which end in -s or -z with a doubled last consonant before adding -es.
tax – taxes

*gas – gasses
Nouns that end in -f or -feChanged to -ve before adding as -s.
*There are exceptions.
wolf – wolves
Nouns that end in -oAdd an -estomato – tomatoes
Nouns that end in -y where -y is preceded by a consonantAdd an -ieuniversity – universities
Nouns that end in -y where -y is preceded by a vowelAdd an -sBoy – boys
Nouns end in ‑usAdd an -icactus – cacti
Noun ends in -isAdd an -esellipsis – ellipses
Noun ends in -onAdd an -aphenomenon – phenomena
Some nouns Don’t changemoosedeershrimpseriessheep
Irregular NounsMust simply be memorizedgoose – geeseman – menchild – childrenpeople – personmouse – mice

Understanding the Possessive forms University’s and Universities’

Gray Study Dice on Table
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We use the possessive form in English to refer to nouns such as people, places, and animals. Possessives illustrate that something belongs to or is “possessed” by someone or something else, indicating ownership (source).

The dog belongs to the girl The girl’s dog.

The ball belongs to the boy The boy’s dog.

The pen belongs to the teacher – The teacher’s pencil.

The buildings belong to the University – The university’s buildings.

As with all English language components, there are a set of rules to follow when applying the possessive form to nouns, whether singular or plural.

We use the apostrophe (‘) punctuation mark to indicate one noun’s possession by another noun (source). It is a handy tool. However, we can easily misuse it, so it is vital to know how to apply it correctly.

First, let’s look at how we apply the possessive form in the possessive singular. Then, we’ll see how it works when it is in its plural possessive form.

University’s: Understanding the Singular Possessive

As a singular noun, “university” refers to one institution, so when we want to form the possessive of that singular noun, we simply add an apostrophe (‘) and an “s.”

The plural possessive will look quite different, but let’s begin first by exploring the singular possessive form in relation to the singular term “university.”

Example One

The university’s library is one of the largest in the country.

In this example, the library belongs to the university, which is why we use the -‘s.

Example Two

The university’s calendar indicates a four-day vacation over Christmas.

In this example, the calendar belongs to the university, which is why we use the -‘s.

Universities’: Understanding the Plural Possessive Form

The plural possessive form can be a bit tricker for people to understand.

However, what you need to remember is that we use the plural possessive to indicate ownership of something by a plural noun — more than one thing owning something or several things.

So, to indicate ownership by a plural noun, we use the suffix “-s” followed by an apostrophe (‘). 

It often helps if you consider the term “university” to progressing from one form to another. The word evolves from the singular form into the plural form and then into the plural possessive form.

Singular FormPlural FormPlural Possessive Form

Example One

The universities’ professors met at a conference in New York.

In this example, several professors from multiple individual universities attended the conference.

These professors each belonged to their respective universities. In other words, each university “owned” something — a professor belonged to, as in came from, that university.

Example Two

The universities’ polo teams are competing against one another this weekend. The players wear their universities’ logos on their jerseys.

Here, the polo teams and their logos belong to their respective universities.

The only exception to the plural possessive rule of an apostrophe (‘) after the suffix -s is if the plural form does not end in an “s.” If the plural form doesn’t end in -s, then you add an -’s to indicate plural possessive form.

men men’s
people people’s
children children’s

Understanding Whether It’s Plural or Possessive

It takes time to master the plural and possessive forms, but, eventually, you will recognize the difference. We can do the following exercise to illustrate the plural and the possessive form.

After I graduate high school, I am going to Princeton __________.UniversityUniversities
In March, all of the __________ open up from campus’suniversities
Many of the __________ students are expected to rally together in a nationwide protest.universitiesuniversities’
You can check online for our __________’suniversities
Oxford and Cambridge are considered to be two of England’s best’suniversities
I went to visit my brother at his __________.universityuniversities
Every year, some __________ teams play football against one’suniversities’
Do you know which __________ you are applying to?university’suniversities
Plural or possessive? Choose the right answer for each sentence.

Answers Key

After I graduate high school, I am going to Princeton University.

In March, all of the universities open up from campus tours.

Many of the universities’ students are expected to rally together in a nationwide protest.

You can check online for our university’s timetable.

Oxford and Cambridge are considered to be two of England’s best universities.

I went to visit my brother at his university.

Every year, some universities’ teams play football against one another.

Do you know which universities you are applying to?

As you will have noticed from the above exercise, the apostrophe helps point us toward the correct form as the possessive.

If you still find the concept of plurals and possessives hard to grasp, you may wish to read the article, “What Is the Difference Between Years and Year’s.”

Image by Pexels via Pixabay

Golden Rules When Using an Apostrophe

The Apostrophe Protection Society offers a set of specific rules when using the apostrophe to protect it from being incorrectly used in English, which happens quite frequently (source).

Hamilton University even described the apostrophe’s misuse in English as the Fourth Deadly Sin, stating that the use of an apostrophe indicates possession and not plural (source).

Many academics and English scholars’ strong feeling towards the correct use of the apostrophe has meant that clear rules regarding its use have been outlined, daring anyone to disobey them.

University vs. College: What’s the Difference?

As a final point for this article, we can look at the difference between a university and a college. While the terms may appear interchangeable, they are not.

We use the term “university” when referring to a large institution that has a range of both undergraduate and graduate programs. Universities are also primarily interested in producing research. 

Colleges are smaller institutions that often focus on undergraduate programs. They tend to offer a wide range of areas of study. Examples of colleges in the US are Bates College and Carroll College.

While we consider a University to be an academic, professional environment, colleges are more often places where you can learn skills, such as trades and career training (source).

For an article on how to properly address a Ph.D., make sure you read our article on this subject.

Colloquially, many use the term “college,” especially in American English, when referring to an institution of higher learning. In pop culture, we often hear the term “college” in movies and in books, which is partly why the terms are so often crossed over.

Plural and Possesive Forms of College

When dealing with the plural and possessive forms of the term “college,” we can use the following examples.

Example One: Singular Form

I am going to college this fall.

Examples Two: Plural Form

I can’t decide which of the great colleges I want to attend after I graduate.

In this example, you can see that the term “college” receives the suffix “-s” to become the plural “colleges.”

Example Three: Possessive Singular Form

The college’s academic programs sound interesting.

When forming the possessive singular form, the term “college” receives an -’s, which illustrates that the academic programs belong to the college.

Example Four: Possessive Plural Form

I did a tour of the colleges’ campuses, and they are all so beautiful.

In the possessive plural, the term “colleges” receives an apostrophe (‘) after the suffix “-s.” This shows that the campuses belong to the various colleges.

Final Thoughts

The plural form and the possessive form are fundamental concepts in understanding the English language and effectively conveying meaning. They also allow us to understand the difference between the words “universities” vs. “university.”

Learning how to form plurals and possessives and how to tell them apart are necessary milestones to strengthen your hold on the language.