I’ve been looking over what has been posted regarding the use of ’s.

I used to be a Technical Writer (years ago). The title of one of our training documents was Users’ Guide. Once, a coworker said every time he saw that title he expected users to start coming.

Never made any sense to me, but I have to admit that the majority of us didn't understand the use of s’ in place of ’s. What is the difference?

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    Surely if you were a Technical Writer you must have noticed that standard practice is simply to call any such document a User Guide. I think it would be fatuous to agonise over how many people might read it, or whether they "own" it. Commented Aug 3, 2011 at 18:04
  • I've also often seen it written with no apostrophe: "Users Guide". I think the reasoning is that the point isn't that the user owns the guide, but that the guide is for or about the user. Like, "Setup Instructions" -- you wouldn't write "Setup's Instructions". I don't claim that that's correct -- personally I'm very confused on this one myself.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 17:38
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    As @FumbleFingers states and is common knowledge and practise. It is User Guide. Therefore both choices in this question are invalid and any answer choosing one or the other is not legitimate. Also note that the guide can only really be used by a single person at a time, making it a User Guide.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 2:13
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    all are grammatically acceptable "Owner's Manual" (single possessive) "Owners' Manual" (plural possessive) and "Owners Manual" (adjective). that's the key point that hasn't been mentioned here... when the word becomes an adjective, as in a "Manual for Owners"as opposed to "A Manual Owned by Owner" or "A Manual Owned by Owners". this makes the usage entirely preferential. personally, i've always seen it as "Owners Manual"
    – aequalsb
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 17:45

5 Answers 5


The difference is in the number of users.

User's guide: A guide belonging to one user.

Users' guide: A guide belonging to all the users.

I'd be inclined to use the first sense rather than the second sense, since the "one" user is really an abstract representation of all the users anyway.

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    A helpful way to think about this is to substitute the word "owner". You will find an "Owner's Manual" but never an "Owners' Manual".
    – Andrew Vit
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 21:41
  • Surely the intended audience rather than the owner is meant. And it is common and totally acceptable to speak to an individual member of a plural audience. // Nowadays, apostropheless variants are possibly eclipsing the traditional possessive forms. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:34

The difference is this: s' is used for plural possessive; 's is used for singular possessive; s' can also be used at the end of proper names that end in s to indicate the possessive without adding the extra s.

Since only one user is likely to be reading a "User's Guide" at a time, it would make sense to use the 's in that title. That may be why your co-worker thought it was funny; possibly he envisioned hordes of people trying to read the document at once.


It may just be my excessive mental flexibility this morning, but actually both make perfect sense to me.

In one case, we have the guide "belonging to" (i.e., "for the benefit of", and targeted at) the single abstract user who represents all the actual physical incarnate users. There is in a very real sense only one user reading this thing at a time, and it is that person that the writer is addressing.

In the other case, we have the actual physical users, who are certainly legion, and without which there would be no point in the existence of the Guide. It is to these people, collectively, that the Guide belongs.

I have written a lot of these things in my day, but to be honest I could not tell you now what I called them at the time.


It's not an Installation's Guide - it's an Installation Guide

Thus, wouldn't it just be a User Guide? I think so.

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    -1 The guide belongs to the user/users in the second example, but it doesn't belong to the installation in the first. Your reasoning is thus flawed.
    – CesarGon
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 19:16
  • There's probably a sound case for Users Guide (with plural attributive noun) nowadays. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 14:20
  • There's definitely a sound case for Users Guide nowadays. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:36

As an Information Developer having more than a decade spent in creating technical documents, I find both as valid--at different contexts.

User's Guide: A specific group of users.

Example: Administrators or Field Engineers or Integration Specialists.

Users' Guide: Any combination of user groups.

Example: Administrators and Field Engineers or Administrators and Integration Specialists or Administrators and Field Engineers and Integration Specialists.

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