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When using the possessive case for purposes of stating what quality a certain object is characteristic of.

Should we use plural or singular form of a noun with an apostrophe? I used think it should be plural.

  1. ladies’ stockings or
    lady’s stockings

  2. women’s clothes or
    woman’s clothes

  3. boys’ toy or
    boy’s toy

  4. dolls’ house or
    doll’s house

  5. cow’s milk or cows’ milk

  6. sheep’s wool
    singular or plural

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  • Related, but it's not a duplicate: ell.stackexchange.com/q/55384/9161
    – ColleenV
    Mar 1, 2023 at 13:39
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    The plural is usually used in the context of a business, product etc. intended for a particular group of people - (Ladies' hairdresser, men's outfitter, children's books). However, searching online gives doll's house (I don't know why!), cow's milk, sheep's wool. Mar 1, 2023 at 16:09
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    Interesting to think about why doll's house and cow's milk are different from boys' shoes or women's clothes or whatever. My guess is that the house or the milk could be (although it is not necessarily) that of one doll or one cow, but boy's shoes or woman's clothes gives the distinct impression that these are the shoes or clothes of one boy or woman, which is a very strange thing to be selling.
    – stangdon
    Mar 1, 2023 at 18:14
  • stangdon, frankly, i was thinking the same. But i found no prove of that guess in any grammar book. One grammar book i stumbled upon lists plural and singular versions all together without making any distinction. But it is always worth listerning to native speakers' opnion first. Thank you!
    – IRINA
    Mar 2, 2023 at 4:41
  • Stuart F, absolutelly, thank you!!!!!!! )))))))) And English language learners sure need to consult native speakers. Thank you!
    – IRINA
    Mar 3, 2023 at 11:18

2 Answers 2

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If the stockings or clothes belong to a person who is a woman then write

  • a woman’s [pair of] stockings
  • a woman's clothes

If the stockings or clothes in a store are for women then I'd suggest:

  • women's / ladies' stockings
  • women's clothes

A house for a doll would be

  • a doll's house

A house for dolls would be

  • a dolls' house

milk from a cow is often labelled as

  • cow's milk

However when the product is derived from vegetables, manufacturers will omit the apostrophe:

  • Sunflower oil (NOT sunflowers' oil)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (NOT Extra Virgin Olives' oil)
  • Soya (soy) milk (NOT Soya's milk)
  • Coconut water (NOT coconuts' water)

while some animal products will either include the apostrophe or omit it entirely.

  • Goat cheese or goat's cheese
  • Cow milk or cow's milk
  • Sheep wool or sheep's wool
  • Lamb wool or lamb's wool

There are exceptions of course, it wouldn’t be English otherwise

  • Chicken breast(s) (NOT chicken’s breast)
  • Duck eggs (NOT duck’s eggs)
  • Lamb brains (NOT lamb’s nor its plural, lambs’ brain)
  • Lamb suet (NOT lamb's suet)
  • Goose liver (NOT goose's liver nor geese's livers)
  • Rabbit-skin glue (Not rabbit's glue or rabbit skin's glue)
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While there may be exceptions, you can follow natural singular or plural. That is, if you would rephrase as "The stockings of the lady" you should use lady's but if you would rephase as "the stocking of the ladies" you should use ladies'

Note you would say "Men's stockings" using a plural to mean "stockings made for men".

As, in most of your examples, there is no difference is pronunciation, expect a lot of variation and "mistakes" in text written by native speakers.

"Cow's milk" is "milk of a cow", so would normally be singular.

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