I am working on one of my employer's websites, and we have a video guide up for patients of how a particular procedure works. The guide was previously titled "A patients guide to [X]", but I have corrected it to "A patient's guide to [X]" as I initially felt that that was correct, and Grammarly also agreed. However, now I'm not so sure. Which do I go for?

  • 3
    I've seen book titles similar to that one, like A Student's Guide to...., so I assume the same goes with patient.
    – user3395
    Jun 21, 2017 at 10:10

7 Answers 7


You need an apostrophe to mark a possessive case here. However, the possessive case doesn't refer to ownership in such examples, instead it refers to the meaning "is intended for":

  • A patient's guide to [X]
  • A student's guide to [X]
  • A teacher's guide to [X]

This means that this guide is intended for students, teachers or patients.

Example "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "The Student's Guide to Becoming a Nurse", "The Teacher's Guides To Technology And Learning".

An edit based on FranklinCovey Style Guide: For Business and Technical Communication by Stephen R. Covey:

Possessive case vs Descriptive nouns.

First of all let's distinguish the difference between the possessive case and the descriptive uses of nouns:

  • The Teacher's Guide (or Teachers' Guide) - Possessive case
  • The Teacher Guide (or Teachers Guide) - Descriptive nouns

The traditional use of the possessive (with an apostrophe) is less common today, especially with corporate names. The name for a guide for teachers is open to all sorts of possibilities. In The Teacher Guide, the noun "teacher" functions as an adjective and not a possessive. This form, without the apostrophe, would appear in titles and in news headlines (which often omit apostrophes). But notice that other options are possible (and correct).
The best advice is to decide for a single document whether you want to use a descriptive or a possessive. Then be consistent throughout that document.


If you use the S, it must be "A patient's guide", which implies that the guide is possessed by a specific patient, or "Patients' guide", which implies that the guide is for multiple patients. I would argue the latter is more grammatical, although the first seems more common. I think one could justify both. The first could be justified as being specifically for the reader, who is a patient.

Alternatively, one could call it "A Patient Guide", although this risks being confused with the adjective "patient", which would describe someone or something that is tolerant and will wait without complaint. With some contexts (e.g. "A doctor guide") this would be fine. Here, I think it's slightly ambiguous and best avoided.

  • 2
    A doctor guide? Seriously? Never heard of! Should be "A Doctor's guide" instead. Jun 21, 2017 at 15:05
  • 4
    @SovereignSun I'm not saying one should, merely that one could. I would call it "A Doctor's Guide..." or "Doctors' Guide..." myself. Jun 21, 2017 at 16:46
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    @SovereignSun "doctor" acts as an adjective in the first use. It's a "noun adjunct," just like in "chicken soup."
    – fectin
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:49
  • 1
    +1 for the first paragraph, and -1 for the second; none of the versions with no s sound appropriate. Jun 21, 2017 at 17:10
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    @TonyK So tone-deaf, this link classroomengineers.org/media/engineer-guide uses the same construction: "Engineer Guide". I'm not the only one, evidently. Jun 21, 2017 at 21:23

I haven't gotten a single example of "A patients guide " over searching on Google, so "A patient 's guide " is appropriate here. It's also same for "A parent's guide " and "A student's guide " .

  • 2
    Google searches don't define grammar. You should have an actual reason, like the other answers. Jun 21, 2017 at 19:57
  • But you can really get a number of good sources which are trustworthy.
    – dz420
    Jun 21, 2017 at 21:37
  • Hm. I think "Texas drivers license" is the canonical spelling, at least in Texas ;-). Event though it's rather a (i.e. one, singular) "driver's license", logically: after all, each one is issued to a specific individual, not to the collective. That would be an even stronger case than in the "patients guide", which actually is issued to the collective. Addendum: The Texans are not consistent. The DMV's page title is "Your Texas Drivers License", but the text uses "driver license" (note: no apostrophe). Natural languages are a mess, aren't they? Jun 22, 2017 at 10:37
  • Expanding on the driver['][s]['] license issue, after some googling: The Texas license proper says "Driver License", nominative singular. Minnesota and some other states write "Driver's License". I could not find an image of a license saying "Drivers License" (nominative plural) or "Drivers' License" (genitive plural). Jun 22, 2017 at 10:52
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    @MatthewRead Usage defines grammar, and Google searches tell a lot more about what people actually use than many of the seemingly arbitrary reasons given in other answers.
    – JiK
    Jun 22, 2017 at 10:53

Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors says:

No apostrophe is generally used today [1998. -p.a.s] with plural nouns that are more descriptive than possessive.

Examples they give are "steelworkers union", "managers meeting" and "singles bar". I think patients guide fits in that group nicely: After all, the patients indeed do not actually own it.

  • This is a good point. The apostrophe is grammatically correct, but it wouldn't be thought of as unusual if it wasn't there.
    – AndyT
    Jun 22, 2017 at 10:22
  • 1
    @AndyT But the cited manual says that it is more a descriptive plural than a possessive case, so an apostrophe would not be any more correct.
    – JiK
    Jun 22, 2017 at 11:10

"A patients guide" would be a guide about patients.

"A patient's guide" would be a guide FOR a patient.

  • '"A patients guide" would be a guide about patients.' This would be my intuition, too, but is there an actual example of a similar title?
    – JiK
    Jun 22, 2017 at 9:32
  • It seems other answers were not able to find an example. You could imagine an example such as 'A cars guide' - though typically we'd see that as 'A guide to cars'. So it's more likely to find 'A guide to patients'. Googling 'A guide to patients' returns many results and also suggests searching for 'A guide to educating patients' which are both more along the lines of my interpretation. To me this says that we don't see 'A patients guide' (sans apostrophe) because it would be more common to say (and see) 'A guide to patients'.
    – Ramy
    Jun 23, 2017 at 2:08

Part of the issue is that you have an "A" at the beginning of your title. Such titles, as pointed out by others, feature singular nouns -- you might have a book about insurance called "A Patient's Guide to Patience."

However, there are other publications whose titles start with "The" -- and these can go either way. "The Boy's Guide to Greatness" or "The Boys' Book Of Survival" are two examples. When these "The" titles are singular, there is usually an adjective included: "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" or "The Married Man's Guide to Adultery" or combined forms like "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue."

Titles like these sound a bit traditional or even old-timey. No surprise, then, that "Ladies' Home Journal" dropped its "The" a while ago.

  • 1
    Where did you pick up those book titles?
    – Mr Lister
    Jun 22, 2017 at 7:51
  • Googled stuff like "boy's guide". "Patient's Guide to Patience" I made up, of course. Also, apparently LHJ has ceased publication.
    – Tom Hundt
    Jun 28, 2017 at 16:59

The key in this case is that Teachers Guide is Plural Possessive.

Proper form is "Teachers' Guide". The apostrophe goes at the end.

Check out this "Advanced (plural) possession" video from the Khan Academy.

  • If you are going to link to another site, you should include the relevant information in your answer. Links can become obsolete. See Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer? for more information.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 22, 2017 at 16:25
  • Teachers Guide as is isn't the Plural Possessive; it's the Descriptive noun - Teachers. However, if we add the apostrophe then it becomes a plural possessive. Jun 22, 2017 at 16:43

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