How to rewrite a sentence to avoid the possessive apostrophe?

Why? I have been told to avoid apostrophes altogether for international English as it's confusing. This is easily done for contractions like don't/I've, but what about the possessive apostrophe?

I understood this:

  • 'The car’s new tires are great.'

  • 'John's new tires are great.'

Could be written as:

  • 'The car its new tires are great.'

  • 'John his new tires are great.'

Is this correct? Or should I use a different structure?

  • 2
    Because contractions are kind of informal colloquialisms while apostrophes for possession are more or less crucial. Also your alternative sentences don't work at all. You could say "The new tires, that John has purchased lately, are great.". Or stuff like that but it's still more cumbersome than it needs to be.
    – haxor789
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 11:02
  • 1
    Are you sure your instructions were to avoid all apostrophes, or just those used in contractions? John his is archaic English. You can say the tyres of the car, but it doesn't sound at all natural. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 11:11
  • @KateBunting This M-W article suggests that 'Instead, it seems likely that the genitive apostrophe is an illustration of our language’s older, highly inflectional state. For instance, the genitive form of the word for king, cyning, would be cyninges.' That reminds me of German, where "beast" is "Tier" but "the king of the beasts" is "der König des Tieres".
    – stangdon
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 11:28
  • @stangdon - I didn't mean to imply that 'John his book' was the only form of the possessive in older English, just that it was sometimes used and isn't any more. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 11:43
  • 2
    Question: Why avoid the possessive apostrophe when it is part and parcel of English? Unless you master some basic usages in this sense, your English will not be idiomatic.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 18:13

2 Answers 2


No, you cannot change "The car's new tires" to "the car its new tires", or "John's books" to "John his books", or anything like that.

English simply does not work that way; the apostrophe does not stand for "his" or "its". (You can read about the history of the possessive apostrophe here.)

I think you might have misunderstood the advice you have seen. We are often recommended to avoid contractions in formal or very simple writing, but that's not the same thing as avoiding all apostrophes. Anyone who tells you to avoid all apostrophes is mistaken, because some of them are either not contractions or are so standard that any other version would sound bizarre (e.g. The children's temperature was taken at five o'clock.)

If you really want to, you can rewrite the sentences to avoid possessive apostrophes, like "John's books" -> "the books belonging to John", but this usually makes the sentence less clear, not more.

  • Thank you for that No.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 18:14

We use the word of to indicate possession without an apostrophe.

The car's tires lost traction.

The tires of the car lost traction.

A bird was in the cat's mouth.

A bird was in the mouth of the cat.

Very simple and does not require a lecture to understand. With people's names this does not always apply. Sometimes you still must use the apostrophe.

The new tires of John's are great!

The new tires of the human named John are great! (This is just an example and it would sound strange if you said it.)

The last sentence works because the subject is not John - a person's name. It is, instead, a human named John - not a person's name.

Oddly enough, even though of doesn't work with people's names, it does work with proper names.

The sun shines on California's sandy shores.

The sun shines on the sandy shores of California.

  • 1
    And one step further in AmE anyway: The car tires are worn down. Didn't you tell me a while back that this or that was not a possessive? I forget which question. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 18:15
  • @Lambie - Two separate conversations on possession, if I recall correctly. We never determined which one of us was possessed, however. :)
    – EllieK
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 18:21
  • There is still a bit more that needs to be included in this answer. For example, why can I not say, The new tires of John, but I can say, The face of John. Is it something do with the tires not being directly possessed by John? Or is it the plural tires.
    – EllieK
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 18:49

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