Possession and noun modifiers

Teapot and teacups

Do you know how to use noun modifiers or different possessive forms? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how we use possessives and noun modifiers.

an office chair
today's busy world
the corner of the room

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar C1: Possession and noun modifiers: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Possession with 's

We use apostrophes to show that something belongs to a person or an animal. We use 's for singular nouns and ' for plural nouns ending in s.

Nelson Mandela's words 
the dogs' blankets 
people's busy working days

We don't usually use 's with things. We either use of or a noun modifier.

The door of the house (NOT the house's door)
The door handle (NOT the door's handle)

However, we can use 's with things:

  • when we're talking about a place or group made up of people

different countries' lifestyles
our school's cafeteria
the government's new policies

  • with some time expressions

in today's busy world
last week's meeting
a day's journey

  • with the word 'life'.

life's stresses and pressures
life's daily challenges
life's little pleasures

Possession with of

For things, ideas, etc. we usually use of between two nouns to show possession. 

in different parts of the world
the lifestyles of other cultures
the demands of daily life

We normally use of to talk about position or to say which part of something we are referring to. This is true with phrases such as the beginning of, the end of, the top of, the side of, etc

the middle of winter
the front of the house

's or of?

Sometimes, both 's and of are possible.

others' work and achievements
the work and achievements of others

In these cases, it is a matter of the writer's or speaker's preference in that particular context. 

Noun modifiers

We often use two nouns together, using the first noun as an adjective. The first noun is called a noun modifier. We do NOT use a possessive form for them. The first noun and second noun sometimes become one word.

a film night (NOT a film's night)
the winter months (NOT the winter's months)
a city bus (NOT a city's bus)
an earring (NOT an ear's ring or an ear ring)

We can use noun modifiers to show what something is made of.

a stone bridge
silver earrings

Or they can show that one thing is a part of something else.

the car door
the chair leg

Sometimes we find more than two nouns together.

London interior designers
a home office chair

Measurements, ages and values can also be used as noun modifiers.

a ten-minute break
a four-hundred-year-old tree
a ten-pound note
a fifty-kilometre journey

Note that the words expressing units here are singular, not plural.


Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar C1: Possession and noun modifiers: 2

Language level

Average: 4.6 (17 votes)
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Submitted by egal on Tue, 09/07/2024 - 19:47


We normally use of to talk about position or to say which part of something we are referring to. This is true with phrases such as the beginning of, the end of, the top of, the side of, etc. 

the middle of winter
the front of the house

When we go on car trips, my brother always calls 'shotgun' so that he can sit in the _____.

front seat

seat of the front




Hello egal,

You're correct that we do use phrases like these. However, note that in the pattern we use 'front' as the first part and follow it with 'of the....'. For example:

the front of the house

the front of the car

the back of the room

the side of the stage

In other words the patter is 'the front of the [object]'. We generally don't use it the other way round ('the [object] of the front').



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lara28 on Tue, 18/06/2024 - 20:26


I’m first language British English, and I’m becoming increasingly confused by the changes to American English in the media which suddenly replace British English. The loss of -ing in many descriptives has been at least possible to follow, but with the latest change I don’t even know what is meant. 

There’s a true crime series called Serial Killer Wives. I thought this meant wives who are serial killers of their husbands (not many of those) so I watched it. But what it means are wives who are victims of serial killer husbands. I would have called that Serial Killers’ Wives! I’ve noticed that plural possessives, in a category sense, have nearly vanished as well. What would be the correct term for wives of serial killers, to distinguish them from the other category. Thanks. 

Hello Lara28,

I know what you mean! A lot of media outlets are transatlanic in scope and the US is obviously the bigger market, so it's understandable from a business point of view to do this kind of thing.

I have some experience of publishing from the authorial side and I can tell you that titles and headlines are often the bane of writers' lives (there's a plural possessive for you!) as they are written by editors and/or marketing staff rather than by the author. They often do not reflect the content of a piece and, sadly, can even contain errors. The goal, of course, is to catch people's attention and it looks like the series title did that in your case so it was a successful title from that perspective. I think I would use something like 'Married to Murderers: The Wives of Serial Killers', but that's probably terrible from a marketing point of view.



The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user ariarina

Submitted by ariarina on Tue, 26/03/2024 - 20:03



The kitchen renovations should only take two __. Why we use days’ work ? Wouldn’t it be more correct to say “working days” or “days of work” ? 


Hello ariarina,

Both of the examples you suggest are possible so it's really a question of choice and style. I would say that two working days is a little different from the other two. Two working days tells us the time required but that could be just a waiting period rather than a quantity of work. 

In terms of frequency I would say that two days work is the most common in everyday use.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faiza_dz on Sat, 30/09/2023 - 21:02


House is a place made up of people. Why we don’t use possession “the house’s door “ like in “our school's cafeteria”?
Best regards,

Profile picture for user oyo

Submitted by oyo on Tue, 26/09/2023 - 11:45


I'm confused in number 4 can someone please explain

Hello oyo,

Can you be more specific, please? There are two exercises on the page so there are two number 4s! Which question is confusing for you?



The LearnEnglish Team