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What Is a Possessive Pronoun?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
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  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2016
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A possessive pronoun is a specific type of word that functions much like any other pronoun but indicates possession. Pronouns, in general, are words used to replace a noun within a sentence, such as “it” or “him.” When the noun phrase being replaced includes a possessive adjective, such as “my book,” then a possessive pronoun is used to indicate that the replaced phrase was also possessive. Common examples in English include words like “mine,” “his,” and “hers;” all lack the use of apostrophes that commonly indicate that a noun is possessive.

The purpose of a possessive pronoun is to allow a single word to replace another noun phrase in a sentence, to avoid repetition and to make communication easier. For example, it would be grammatically accurate for someone to write, “That is my book, this is your book, please stop using my book,” but it is repetitious and somewhat unwieldy. In order to simplify this type of sentence, a possessive pronoun can be used in place of any of the noun phrases that include a possessive adjective.

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A noun phrase is simply one or more words that create a single phrase together that functions as a noun within a sentence. Simple sentences like “Tom runs fast,” have “Tom” as a noun phrase that acts as the subject of the sentence. A more complex sentence like “The dog is happy,” has “The dog” as the subject and a noun phrase made up of an article, “The,” and a noun, “dog.” Noun phrases can also include possessive adjectives, such as “my” to indicate who or what possesses something.

In the previous example, “That is my book, this is your book, please stop using my book,” the noun phrase “my book” includes a possessive adjective and a noun. This can be replaced by a possessive pronoun such as “mine,” while “your book” can be replaced by the possessive pronoun “yours.” The entire sentence might be reworded through the use of such pronouns to flow better as “That is my book, this is yours, please stop using mine.”

Other common forms of possessive pronoun include third person ones such as “hers” and “his” and the plural forms “ours,” “yours,” and “theirs.” These words retain the same form regardless of whether they are used as the subject of a sentence, or as an object within it. A possessive pronoun also does not require an apostrophe, unlike a noun such as “dog” that changes to “dog’s” to indicate possession.

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BoniJ
Post 9

Some students learning ESL have some problems with possessive pronouns when in their language, the object that is possessed has to agree with the possessive adjective. Students whose 1st language has gender attached to their nouns,like French and Spanish, have a challenge.

The French say "Paul/Paule a perdu son livre." Because book is masculine, the possessive adjective also has to be masculine, even if the owner of the book is female. It's very confusing for those students.

Another problem that sometimes gets my students laughing, is when their language says that only certain things have personal ownership. In Spanish, they use "the / a" to describe the parts of the body. They say "I broke the arm", while we say "I broke my arm."

Bertie68
Post 8

The possessive pronoun forms are part of the whole personal reference system in the English language. In the phrase, - This is her coat, "her" is called a possessive determiner or possessive adjective. A possessive pronoun like "hers" in This coat is hers, is also called a determiner.

If you teach grammar or are taking a grammar class, it's interesting to notice that "person" changes a little from the possessive adjective form to the possessive form. For example, my to mine, your to yours, our to ours, and their to theirs. But the 3rd person masculine singular stays the same when it goes to the possessive form - his to his.

Emilski
Post 7

@matthewc23 - I can only speak for Latin, but your idea is kind of right. Latin uses noun declensions, too.

Obviously, you can express possession, but there aren't "stand in" words that function like pronouns. Instead of being able to say "that book is yours," the writing would be phrased like "that is the book of yours" with the word for book still needing to be included in the sentence. Not a great explanation, but I hope it helps.

I'm willing to guess other languages are like that, too.

matthewc23
Post 6

@jmc88 - The only other possessive pronoun I can think of would be "whose."

I don't think there is anything special about the possessive pronouns in Spanish. Mine would be mio. Yours would be tuyo or suyo(s). You would also have nuestro and vuestro.

That did get me thinking, though, about how they would work in other languages that use declensions for their nouns like German or something. It seems like there might be special cases in those languages.

jmc88
Post 5

@kentuckycat - Don't forget "it has," too.

So, how many are there altogether? By my count (and the ones mentioned in the article), I have seven possessive pronouns. The article mentions mine, his, hers, its, yours, ours, and theirs. Are there any more?

Also, what forms do possessive pronouns take in other languages? I used to know Spanish pretty well, but I can't think of what any of them would be. Does Spanish have some sort of special form for possessive pronouns?

kentuckycat
Post 4

@MissDaphne - Good clarification. I guess I had never thought about words like "my" technically being adjectives. Whenever I was in school, we just always called them possessive pronouns. I had never heard the term possessive adjective until now.

I'm with you too on "its" and "it's." It drives me crazy when people don't use them correctly. Even if you don't know their parts of speech and the grammar rules associated with them, all you have to remember is that "it's" can always be said "it is" and still fit into the sentence.

MissDaphne
Post 3

@jennythelib - That's a really nice explanation of how to remember possessive pronouns and when not to use an apostrophe. I wish more people could remember! Alas, we prescriptivists are a dying breed.

The question of whether "my," "your," etc. are possessive pronouns is one of those I-say-tomato, you-say-tomahto things. Some books will call them possessive pronouns, others call them possessive adjectives. It's important to understand that they have characteristics of both. They can take the place of a noun, but only a possessive noun. (Jennifer's book = her book.) And like all possessives used before another noun, they function like adjectives.

The article is reserving the term "possessive pronouns" for those that are used alone. You can actually do this with adjectives as well. If you're helping someone choose paint chips, you might say, "I prefer the red."

wiesen
Post 2

"My," "your," "her" and similar words are possessive adjectives because they modify another word like a noun or pronoun.

Think of it this way: You might say "This is hers" to indicate something in particular, in which "hers" is that something. But you wouldn't say "This is her" to indicate that thing, unless the object you are indicating is a person in which "her" is a simple object pronoun not a possessive one.

But you would say "This is her car," which indicates ownership by modifying "car." That's why "her" can be used as an object pronoun or a possessive adjective, since it modifies a noun like "car" to indicate whose it is.

jennythelib
Post 1

I always try to remember about "his," because it helps me remember "it's/its" and "who's/whose." "Its" and "whose" are possessive pronouns (I guess they can also be possessive adjectives) so they do not use apostrophes.

"It's" and "who's" are contractions meaning "it is" and "who is." It's tricky because for a regular noun like "girl," the words meaning "of the girl" and "girl is" are the same - both are "girl's." (This makes English different from other languages, which have different ways of showing these.)

But for possessive pronouns in English, the forms are different.

I have a question, though, after reading the article. I was taught that "her," "my," "your," etc. are also possessive pronouns. But the article says they are possessive adjectives. Was I taught wrong?

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