Understanding Singular and Plural Possessives: The Case of “United States”

When it comes to English grammar, showing possession can sometimes be tricky, especially with proper nouns like “United States.” Is it “United States’” or “United States’s”? And how do we use these forms correctly?

This article will simplify these concepts, using a structure that’s easy to follow. We’ll look at the singular possessive, plural possessive, and plural forms, and even include a table for clarity. Let’s dive in and make grammar as easy as pie!

Singular vs. Plural Possessive

Singular vs. Plural Possessive

First, let’s understand what we mean by singular and plural possessive forms. When we talk about something that belongs to one person or thing, we use the singular possessive form. For more than one person or thing, we use the plural possessive form. But, when it comes to the name of a country like the United States, it gets a bit more nuanced.

The Special Case of “United States”

The “United States” is a singular noun that refers to a country composed of multiple states. This can be confusing because it sounds plural (since it ends with “s”), but it’s treated as a singular entity because it refers to one country. So, how do we show possession?

Table: Forms of “United States”

FormUsage Example
Singular (no possession)The United States is a large country.
Singular possessiveThe United States’s economy is strong.
Plural (not applicable)Not applicable for “United States”
Plural possessive (not applicable)Not applicable for “United States”

Singular Possessive: “United States’s”

Singular Possessive: "United States’s"

When we want to talk about something that belongs to the United States, we add an apostrophe followed by an “s” (‘s) after “States” even though it ends with an “s.” This might seem against the usual rule of just adding an apostrophe for nouns ending in “s,” but it’s commonly accepted for proper nouns, especially in modern writing. For instance, when we say “the United States’s economy,” we’re talking about the economy that belongs to the United States.

Usage in Sentences

  • The United States’s national parks are beautiful.
  • We studied the United States’s history last semester.

Read More: Understanding “Girl’s,” “Girls’,” and “Girls”: A Simplified Guide

Plural and Plural Possessive: Not Applicable

Normally, we talk about plural forms when there are more than one of something, and plural possessive when something belongs to more than one person or thing. However, “United States” is a unique case. Since it’s a name of a single country, we don’t use a plural or plural possessive form for it. It remains “the United States” whether we’re talking about the country in general or something that belongs to it.

Why It’s Confusing

The confusion often comes from the fact that “United States” sounds like it could be plural because it describes a collection of states. However, grammatically, it’s treated as a singular noun when referring to the country. The key is to remember that “United States,” despite sounding plural, represents one country, hence the use of the singular possessive form with an ‘s (“United States’s”).

Making It Easy

To keep it simple, remember this rule:

  • When talking about something that belongs to the United States, use “United States’s.”
  • You don’t need to worry about plural or plural possessive forms for “United States” since it’s always considered singular when referring to the country.


Grammar can be a bit puzzling, especially with names of places like “United States.” But once you understand the rules, it becomes much easier. The “United States” may sound like a plural noun, but it’s singular because it refers to one country. Therefore, we use “United States’s” to show possession. There’s no need for plural or plural possessive forms with this noun, simplifying things for everyone.

By breaking down these grammatical rules into simpler terms, we hope to have made the concept clearer and more accessible, regardless of your grade level or familiarity with grammar. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep using these rules in your writing, and it will become second nature in no time!

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