I know that children’s books is correct, but for some reason I want to say kids books, even though I know that it’s a plural possessive noun ending in an s.

A quick search on the web turns up Barnes & Noble, who have a web page title that reads “Children's Books, Kids Books”.

Is the major bookseller wrong here? Or is there some exception I don’t remember?

More simply, is it kids books or kids’ books — and why?


5 Answers 5


Part of my answer to the question posted here was:

According to ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’, the removal of the apostrophe from 'plural nouns in phrases which express affiliation . . . is widespread in the English-speaking world' and has the imprimatur of the American Associated Press stylebook and the Australian government Style Manual. As the Cambridge Guide says, ‘the time spent worrying about whether it should really be driver’s licence or drivers’ licence would be better used elsewhere.'

Nothing is lost by writing kids books rather than kids’ books. However, the Cambridge Guide does point out 'that there are special cases which seem anomalous without the apostrophe s', and one of them is childrens, 'because that is not a regular form of the word . . . Thus context is the final arbiter as to whether apostrophes are needed, as always.'

  • 1
    The "time better spent elsewhere" argument is an odd and a rather lazy position for a manual of style to adopt. In many ways, the very reason why manuals of style exist is so that their readers can spend their time on more productive matters. Aug 16, 2012 at 13:59
  • @coleopterist: Omit the apostrophe in such cases, as many seem to be doing, and you no longer have to worry about where you put it. It's a trivial matter. A writer can then spend the time instead on rather more important things like constructing a coherent argument. Aug 16, 2012 at 14:42
  • @BarrieEngland Thanks for your answer. Can you clarify what is meant by affiliation here? In this case, is it because they are a group of people that belong to a specific demographic, i.e. "kids"? Aug 16, 2012 at 22:58
  • @DJSizzlePuff: The examples given in the Cambridge Guide are 'teachers college' and 'senior citizens centre'. Some might argue that 'kids books' is stretching a point. I would reply that an apostrophe there serves no purpose and that where punctuation serves no purpose it should be omitted. The possessive apostrophe came into English writing only in the mid-sixteenth century. We managed without it before and we can do so again. It will not disappear overnight, but will be gradually eroded like many other features of the language over the centuries which are no longer mourned. Aug 17, 2012 at 6:33

Either is acceptable.

Kids' is a genitive determiner. (Like our, the cat's, the man who stole my wallet's, and so on.)

Kids is a noun modifier. (Like machine in machine tools, book in book publisher and so on.)

The worst that could be said about the publisher is that it is being grammatically inconsistent. Mind you, for a book publisher, that's quite an indictment.

Aside: Often, when a noun is used as a noun modifier, it is forced into the singular form. For example, trousers is always plural, but the trouser in trouser press is singular. If this rule were strict, you could argue that the form using the noun modifier should be kid books rather than kids books, but exceptions like glasses case show that this rule is not strict. If somebody can explain why the rule is followed for trouser press and not glasses case then we may have a case against the publisher.

  • Just a picky point, Barnes & Noble is not a publisher, but rather a book seller.
    – JLG
    Aug 16, 2012 at 12:22
  • @JLG I've never been clear on the difference between press, publisher and seller.
    – Pitarou
    Aug 17, 2012 at 0:28
  • Actually, Barnes & Noble also does publishing according to their Wikipedia entry. Aug 17, 2012 at 2:23
  • I'm fine with kids books, as to me it functions as a shorter substitue for "books for kids" Apr 12, 2020 at 5:43

I think that the Barnes & Noble web page example is a useful illustration of the shift in usage that is occurring at present. However, it is also sadly inconsistent.

There is a general tendency to switch to the noun-modifier option when an attributive (in the sense of a construction denoting association) rather than a true possessive is intended (but not otherwise):

We bought the children's clothes at the Childrens Clothing department at Garrods.

Garrods can of course decide on whether they prefer an apostrophe or not.

Notice that we have disturbing new nouns (used solely as modifiers): childrens, mens, womens; writers guilds smugly don't need any.

  • So in other words Childrens department is shorthand for department servicing children and NOT a department OWNED by children Apr 12, 2020 at 5:41
  • According to the modern trend in usage I subscribe to, yes. I suppose 'servicing' might be broadened; a Writers Guild, for instance, is run by not for the writers. Apr 12, 2020 at 11:48

To answer the question, the correct plural possessive of kids is kids’. It's a standard plural and takes s-apostrophe.

  • Which question? Aug 16, 2012 at 22:38
  • 1
    The question "What's the correct plural possessive of "kids"? (e.g. kids books vs children's books)" before @tchrist edited it out, five hours after my answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 16, 2012 at 22:47
  • As is often the case, OP writes a 'simplified' version (or several) of the question they pose in the title (eg 'More simply, is it kids books or kids’ books [that should be used] — and why?') - that really demands a fuller discussion (and, I'd say, a different answer - one that doesn't merely address (once?) accepted grammatical terms that might now be considered inadequate). Mar 9, 2013 at 10:22
  • @EdwinAshworth My answer addresses kids/kids' and why it is s-apostrophe: it's a standard plural possessive. I don't hold with Larry Trask's modernist views.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 9, 2013 at 11:11

Although Children's books and kids'books are accepted ways to say it, I just debate (and I know it's pointless!) about the real purpose of the genitive case. Isn't that to express possession? The "worker's money" means that the money belongs to the worker; my aunt's book means that the book belongs to my aunt.

If the noun has the function of an adjective, then it's not a possessive/genitive case. Right? We would say "a garden story" and not a garden's story, because the story does not belong to the garden. But it's about a garden. Children memories are memories about that period of being a child. We are not saying that all children own all memories (that would be children's memories).

Same about children books. If I write a book for children, children is an adjective here; not the owners of my book! The "children" are only the type of the book. Therefore, an adjective.

I know I cannot change rules, but because everybody accepts the exception it becomes the conventional. I think children's books is grammatically incorrect. But what can I do?

Just sharing! :~

  • 2
    I'm afraid that Stack Exchange isn't particularly well suited for discussion in answers. Please only post answers that answer the question. Nov 26, 2012 at 11:16
  • @Uba: Working mens clubs are rarely (if ever) owned by all the working men (and possibly, in these enlightened days, working women, and even those out of work) who frequent them. Do you advise them to call themselves Working mens clubs (as most of them do - check a Google search for "working mens club"), Working men clubs, Working man clubs, Working men's clubs, or have you another idea? Mar 9, 2013 at 10:29

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