A noun can change form to indicate whether it’s possessive, plural, or both, so how does this apply to the noun “country”? For example, what’s the difference between “countries” and “country’s”?
The difference is that “countries” is the plural form of the singular noun “country,” and we use it to refer to many different countries at once. “Country’s” is the singular possessive form of “country,” and we use it to indicate something belonging or pertaining to that country or its people.
Pluralizing nouns and using apostrophes is reasonably straightforward. You’ll just need to memorize a few spelling rules for adding suffixes and where to place the apostrophe when it’s singular possessive or plural possessive. In this article, we’ll walk you through each instance with examples.
The Meaning of Country
Knowing the true meaning of our root word can help us understand how to apply various other grammatical rules to it as we adapt it to fit our usage.
For starters, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a country as “a political state or nation or its territory” (source).
The word “country” first emerged to describe a person’s native land or any geographical area in the 1300s. However, it did hint towards political powers that governed in the regions as well (source).
It most often referred to the common people living in the land outside of the walled cities. Still, even now, we sometimes use “country” as an adjective to describe people who live in rural areas or cultural aspects that we associate with rural life.
With the rise of popular governments came a greater association of the noun form with a political state or territory. For more on the development of countries and nations, make sure you read “Country vs. Nation: Similarities and Differences.”
“Country” is a count noun, as opposed to being a mass noun. This simply means that the word has a plural form, and we would be able to signify one single country or many countries by applying the plural form, which we will explore more in the sections to come.
Even though we use the word “country” to describe a land and its people, you may be surprised to discover that it is not a collective noun. A collective noun is something we use to show a group of nouns, such as a flock of birds or a pile of books. Instead, “country” is just a singular, common noun.
The Key Differences Between “Countries” and “Country’s”
When we make a noun plural, the most common suffixes we use are “s” and “es.” There are, however, irregular suffixes outside of these two. For more on this, make sure you check out the article, “Children’s or Childrens’: Understanding Proper Usage of the Possessive Noun.”
The Plural Form of Country: Countries
Fortunately, pluralizing the noun “country” is fairly simple. Since “country” ends on a -y, we must modify it before we can add the suffix to pluralize it.
The common rule for such cases is to drop the -y and add -ies. This same rule applies to most words ending in a “y,” like “pony,” and “colony.” We can pluralize all three of these by dropping the “y” that appears at the end of the word and adding -ies in its place (source).
The resulting plural noun “countries” refers to more than one political state or region. Thus, we use this phrase to speak about many countries simultaneously, either the geographical landmass or a population.
Examples Using “Countries”
Let’s look at a few examples of “countries” in a sentence:
- I have visited five different countries.
- I love coastal countries because the idea of being so close to the ocean is appealing.
- The Olympics pits top athletes from many countries against each other.
The Singular Possessive Form of Country: Is Country’s Correct?
Unlike the previous examples, when we want to form the possessive of “country,” we do not need to modify the root word. Instead, we add an apostrophe (‘) and an “s” after the “y.”
- Pony→ pony’s
We use the apostrophe to show ownership, as when something belongs or pertains to someone or something (source).
So, instead of us speaking about many different countries, we use “country’s” to speak about something pertaining to that specific country, such as “the country’s beaches.”
Notice how the noun now functions as a possessive determiner or possessive adjective. “Country’s” specifies that the noun “beaches” belongs to that particular country.
Examples Using “Country’s”
Here, we’ve provided a few more examples to help you become familiar with the concept. Note how the possessive determiner goes before the noun that it refers to.
- I don’t agree with my country’s stance on this issue.
- George Washington served as the country’s president between 1789 and 1797.
- I dream of playing for my country’s national team.
Let’s also consider the following conversation that depicts the possessive form:
Speaker 1: Was it difficult to apply for residency in Australia?
Speaker 2: Yes, this country’s immigration laws made it very tough.
Here, the subject of discussion is Australia’s laws. Speaker 1 has already mentioned which country they’re discussing, so it would be repetitive for Speaker 2 to say it again in their response.
Hence, Speaker 2 phrases their sentence in a way that demonstrates the possessive form of the root word, “country.”
These are the same concepts we discussed in a separate article dealing with “parties” and “party’s” — be sure to read that article for further clarification on these differences.
Alternatives to “Country’s”
Besides the point we made above, structuring a sentence to use the possessive form “country’s” can be rather clumsy. You may want to try and avoid building your sentences in this way, particularly if you are struggling to come to terms with the difference between “countries” and “country’s.”
One alternative might be to use the country’s name instead, as in “England’s royal family” or “Japan’s Olympic athletes,” but this can quickly become repetitive.
You can use terms like “nation’s,” “state’s,” or “nation state’s.” Depending on the context, when referring to the people of a territory, you can say “people’s,” “tribe’s,” “population’s,” “community’s,” “citizen’s,” etc. (source).
When referring to the territory or government itself, you might use “land’s,” “realm’s,” “kingdom’s,” “dominion’s,” “republic’s,’ etc., depending on the government or territory you’re referring to.
The Underlying Grammatical Rules
The pluralization rule we looked at that applies to the word “country” made things rather easy. But this rule is not without its exceptions, and it would be a good idea for us to explore those applications to enrich your understanding.
Consider the noun “boy,” which ends in a “y”; however, when we pluralize it, we say “boys.”
The letter that comes before the “y” is important in making this distinction. When this second-to-last word is a vowel (a, e, i, o, u), then we can get by with only using an “s.” This rule prevents having a mess of vowels — like “keys” becoming “keies.”
When the letter before the “y” is a consonant, then you can safely apply the “Drop the -y and add -ies” rule.
The Possessive Form
Most of the time, we show possession by simply saying who the object belongs to along with an apostrophe and an -s, as in “that is Frank’s book.” This proper noun is in the singular possessive form — Frank may share his book with other people, but Frank would still be the book’s owner.
Grammarians consider adding the -s onto words that already end in an “s” to be unnecessary. In which case, we’d use something like “Charles’ homework,” where we only add the apostrophe (source).
Since most plurals end in an “s,” removing the second “s” is common when we show both the plural form and the possessive. However, we go into this more thoroughly in a section to come.
We can refer to ownership in a broader sense, too. For example, we can mention that an object belongs to a group of people, or even abstractly, as with inanimate objects, such as “the car’s engine.”
For us to modify a word into the possessive form, not much changes — for the most part, we would still use an apostrophe and an -s, like “The French summer can get quite warm. The country’s average can reach 95°F.”
The Plural Possessive Form: Countries’
There is a third option too, which we have not touched on yet but is also worth examining. It draws from both forms we’ve looked at and combines them into one. There may be circumstances where we need to show both pluralization and possession, so let us discuss what this looks like.
Applying the Pluralized Possessive Form
Consider this example involving athletes from South American countries:
- South American countries’ athletes typically have excellent ball skills.
This sentence is speaking to many countries at once, which we gathered from the use of “South American.” Furthermore, observing that they’re speaking of a general area instead of a specific place, we infer that more than one country is involved here.
But the subject of this sentence is not merely the countries themselves, but rather the people born there and their soccer skills. This means that we need to include a possessive determiner to signify possession as well.
Some Examples Using “Countries’”
To help solidify this, here are some examples to think about:
- Many countries’ political leaders travel often.
- I like to look at my passport to see all the different countries’ stamps.
- In Europe, it’s common for stores to accept neighboring countries’ currencies.
Knowing what to write or type is one thing, but how should we pronounce the plural possessive form of “countries”? Should we pronounce it the same way as “countries” or as though it has two “s’s” at the end?
For example, in those cases where people use an -’s for a word that already ends in an -s, some feel the need to overemphasize the second “s,” coming out almost as a “z” sound.
This issue contributes to why grammarians consider the second “s” unnecessary since it creates confusion over pronunciation.
In cases where there is a second “s,” you can get by with only pronouncing one “s.” Similarly, you’d say “countries’” the same as “countries.”
Using Apostrophes Correctly
We’ve seen that the possessive and the plural possessive both utilize an apostrophe, but it’s also beneficial to touch on other ways to use apostrophes correctly.
The most common placement for an apostrophe is before the final letter of the word. We saw this happening in the possessive form, “country’s,” but, as we found out, this isn’t always the case.
Here are two other grammatical areas that use apostrophes and some notable contradictions to the placement rule.
A contraction is when we combine two words to shorten a sentence. Contractions essentially follow their own rules on a case-by-case basis.
Consider the contracted word, “he’ll.” In this case, the two remaining letters from “will” appear after the apostrophe. “Seven o’clock,” for example, is a rather historic contraction meaning “seven of the clock.”
The apostrophe we use in contractions is primarily to share where the omitted letters were, which helps to contextualize the shortened word so readers can understand what it means. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Surprisingly, regular plurals don’t normally require apostrophes — save for one exception where we pluralize lowercase letters, and even then, it is just for readability’s sake. Instead, you typically show plurals through suffixes and modifying the root word.
To use the correct form of “country,” you need to identify whether you need the singular, singular possessive, plural, or plural possessive form.
The singular form is “country,” and the singular possessive is “country’s.” For more than one nation, you will use the plural form “countries” or the plural possessive form “countries’,” indicating ownership by more than one country.
Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be using apostrophes and plural forms like a professional grammarian in no time!