- an ending used in writing to represent the possessive morpheme after most singular nouns, some plural nouns, especially those not ending in a letter or combination of letters representing an s or z sound, noun phrases, and noun substitutes, as in man's, women's, baby's, James's, witness's, (or witness'), king of England's, or anyone's.
Origin of 's1
- contraction of is: She's here.
- contraction of does: What's he do for a living now?
- contraction of has: He's just gone.
- a contraction of God's, as in 'swounds; 'sdeath; 'sblood.
- a contraction of us, as in Let's go.
- a contraction of as, as in so's to get there on time.
suffix forming the possessive singular case of most Modern English nouns, its use gradually was extended in Middle English from Old English -es, the most common genitive inflection of masculine and neuter nouns (cf. dæg "day," genitive dæges "day's").
Old English also had genitives in -e, -re, -an, as well as "mutation-genitives" (cf. boc "book," plural bec), and the -es form never was used in plural (where -a, -ra, -na prevailed), thus avoiding the verbal ambiguity of words like kings'.
In Middle English, both the possessive singular and the common plural forms were regularly spelled es, and when the e was dropped in pronunciation and from the written word, the habit grew up of writing an apostrophe in place of the lost e in the possessive singular to distinguish it from the plural. Later the apostrophe, which had come to be looked upon as the sign of the possessive, was carried over into the plural, but was written after the s to differentiate that form from the possessive singular. By a process of popular interpretation, the 's was supposed to be a contraction for his, and in some cases the his was actually "restored." [Samuel C. Earle, et al, "Sentences and their Elements," New York: Macmillan, 1911]
As a suffix forming some adverbs, it represents the genitive singular ending of Old English masculine and neuter nouns and some adjectives.