I have to translate the title of my college work and I can't decide whether it is correct to say "Colleagues rating system" or "Colleagues' rating system", because I have often seen examples where genitive/possessive is used without apostrophe or character 's' appended to the noun. Unfortunately I have failed to find any resources for this so as a non-native speaker I must ask for your help!

How it really is? Is it possible to omit apostrophe or s in genitive?

  • You might want to add the apostrophe to avoid ambiguity. Is a "colleagues rating system" a rating system owned (or invented or performed) by colleagues, or are you rating the colleagues? For the second, an apostrophe would be ungrammatical. Feb 27, 2016 at 15:48
  • @PeterShor the second - "you are rating colleagues" - is my case, thank you for clearing confusion for this particular query. Now I see that it is not considered possessive (in my native language it a bit different), but it is still genitive, right? Feb 27, 2016 at 16:39
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    Have a look at @tchrist 's answer in the [Saxon Genitive or adjective](Saxon Genitive or adjective) for a start. And adding to Peter's answer, if you are rating the colleagues, a 'colleague rating system' is another and perhaps stylistically preferable option. // Peter's comment shows the advantage in keeping the apostrophe for cases of possession-rather-than-association. Feb 27, 2016 at 16:40
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    Whether it's a genitive depends on what definition of "genitive" you use ... looking on the web, some grammar websites say English has no genitive case; some use "genitive" and "possessive" as synonyms, and some say you can have genitives that aren't possessive. And adding to @Edwin's comment, the apostrophe is used for some cases of association which aren't quite possession, but not this one. Feb 27, 2016 at 19:46
  • Adding to Peter's comment, the situation is messy. We have Dogs' Homes and Dogs Homes; Working Mens Clubs and a few Working Men's Clubs.... Look up 'apostrophe' here, and check online etc for individual usages. Feb 27, 2016 at 20:42

2 Answers 2


Since "colleagues" is a plural noun and has already been added an "s" to pluralize it you do not add a second "s" to produce the possessive form, only the apostrophe. Something different happens when the plural noun does not finish in "s".(like children --- possessive children's...)

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    I doesn't really answer what I asked Feb 27, 2016 at 22:29

I do not know if this may answer your doubts. When you use noun + ' + noun, (according to the rules I mentioned) you are expressing the relation between owner and belonging, whereas, if you don't use the apostrophe, the role of the noun changes and what you are doing with the noun is using it as if it were an adjective so, you would be classifying "rating system" as if you said "technical rating system", for example. The latter wouldn't really refer to possession.

  • So would that mean that one should use an apostrophe in all instances? Apr 7, 2016 at 2:09
  • Morella Almann.- If you want to imply possession, yes! (with one exception: when you have more than one owner only the last one in the list takes the apostrophe) Apr 8, 2016 at 20:50

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