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Possessive Pronouns

Possessive Pronouns

Say you have a favorite game. You can describe this in several ways, such as, “My favorite game is Wizardry 8” or “Wizardry 8 is a favorite game of mine.” You can also turn that question on someone else with, “What is your favorite game?” All of these instances contain possessive pronouns (highlighted pink), a hallmark of English grammar. Although there aren’t many possessive pronouns, the topic is more elusive than you think.

Possessive Pronouns English Grammar

In English language grammar, a pronoun fulfills a distinct role that isn’t always possessive.

A pronoun fills in for another noun.

By nature, a pronoun is more generic than a noun. Here is a chart of nouns and how you might refer to them as pronouns.

NounAs a pronoun...

Rock

It is over there.

Sally

That football is hers.

Mittens

They make me warm.

Dusty the cat

He is my buddy.

In each highlighted instance, you only know what the pronoun refers to because you have the far-left column to clarify it. Without that column, you would have no idea what “it,” “hers,” “they,” or “he” refers to.

Only one of these examples uses a possessive pronoun, however. That possessive pronoun is “hers.”

A possessive pronoun indicates that someone or something has or owns something else.

This doesn’t necessitate two physical things. It can also include properties. Here are two examples.

Subject

Possesses…

Using the noun

Using the pronoun

Sally

Rock (a thing)

Sally’s rock

Her rock

Dusty the cat

Friendly behavior (a property)

Dusty the cat’s friendly behavior

His friendly behavior

In terms of English grammar, possessive pronouns are a case of pronoun. Specifically, they are of the genitive case.

The case of a word changes based on its role in the sentence (e.g., whether it acts, is acted upon, or possesses something).

The genitive case shows possession.

English does not have many cases. However, most instances of case in English deal with the genitive case in nouns and pronouns. Here is how a singular noun vs. a singular pronoun is made genitive.

NounGenitive form

Toby

Toby’s

He

His

A noun adds a -’s for singular genitive nouns, while a pronoun morphs. This is similar for plural nouns and pronouns.

NounGenitive form

The leaders

The leaders’

They

Their/Theirs

At this point, it would be useful to have the full chart of possessive pronouns and some further context about the morphology.

Morphology is the study of words within a language and how they change based on context.

Possessive pronouns. An abstract image of thinking. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Match genitive forms accurately to their noun or pronoun.

Possessive Pronouns Chart

You can chart possessive pronouns based on five aspects put along two axes: person and number.

Singular Independent

Singular Dependent

Plural Independent

Plural Dependent

First-person

Mine

My

Ours

Our

Second-person

Yours

Your

Yours

Your

Third-person

His, Hers, Its, Theirs

His, Her, Its, Their

Theirs

Their

These constitute all of the possessive pronouns in the English language. Suffice it to say, there aren’t that many. However, you might be wondering what the difference between “independent” and “dependent” pronouns is.

The independent genitive pronoun can stand alone. “That is mine.”

The dependent genitive pronoun requires an object. “That is my handbag.”

Since there aren’t that many possessive pronouns, it shouldn’t take long to provide examples for each.

Possessive Pronouns Examples

Here is a list of all possessive pronouns with example sentences.

First-person possessive pronouns:

That is mine. (singular independent genitive)

That is my cat. (singular dependent genitive)

Dusty the cat is ours. (plural independent genitive)

That’s our choice. (plural dependent genitive)

Second-person possessive pronouns:

I’m yours. (singular independent genitive)

That dog is your responsibility. (singular dependent genitive)

All right, the puppies are yours now. (plural independent genitive)

Your puppies are mighty friendly. (plural dependent genitive)

Third-person possessive pronouns:

It’s his. / It’s hers. / That is its. / It’s theirs. (singular independent genitive)

His arm hurts. / Her leg hurts / Its head hurts / Their hand hurts. (singular dependent genitive)

The basketball is theirs. (plural independent genitive)

It’s their baseball. (plural dependent genitive)

Possessive pronouns. A baseball. StudySmarter.Fig 2. - "Person" refers to perspective in English grammar. "I" play baseball (first-person). "You" play baseball (second-person). "I" and "you" are unique perspectives.

Possessive Pronouns Used In Sentences

Because English is an analytic language, possessive pronouns must be used in particular places in sentences.

An analytic language uses word order, auxiliary verbs, and prepositions to indicate what is happening in a sentence.

A dependent possessive pronoun will always appear before what it possesses.

That is my watch.

If a possessive pronoun is independent (e.g., mine), it will appear as the object in a sentence.

The object of a sentence receives the verb from the subject.

In the case of independent possessive pronouns, that would look like:

The computer (subject) is (verb) mine (object).

While a dependent possessive pronoun can assist a subject or object in a sentence (e.g., “My friend is happy” or “John is my friend”), an independent possessive pronoun will always appear as the object of a sentence.

Unclear Pronouns: When using pronouns in writing, always beware of unclear pronouns. A pronoun is unclear if a reader doesn’t know what it refers to. For instance, “it is over there” might be unclear, whereas “the remote control is over there” is much clearer.

That said, pronouns have their uses, possessive or otherwise. You include pronouns to shorten ideas. For example, if one sentence reads, “Burry is a magical goblin,” then you probably wouldn’t follow it up with:

  • Burry’s favorite food is hoppop pie.

Instead, you would write:

  • His favorite food is hoppop pie.

This is because the subject “Burry” is perfectly clear, thanks to the prior sentence. This is a basic example, but even as sentences grow more complex, you still end up using more pronouns than not. As a rule of thumb, use a pronoun when:

  • It agrees with the last noun subject, OR
  • There is no immediate chance for confusion (for example, you can go back and forth between “he” and “she” if there are just two people talking and one is a “he” and the other is a “she.”

Possessive Pronouns as Adjectives

There are multiple ways to codify English pronouns. Pertinent to the discussion here, there is another way to look at the dependent genitive pronouns (my, your, his, her, its, their).

In this alternate way of categorization, you can describe these determiners as possessive adjectives because they modify a noun.

“Her cup.”

In this construction, “her” functions in some sense like an adjective. After all, an adjective gives some kind of information about a noun, and “her” does that. It also abides by many of the grammatical and syntactical rules of an adjective.

However, a determiner like “her” does not always abide by the grammatical and syntactical rules of an adjective. For instance, in a list of adjectives describing a noun, you would construct the sentence in this way:

The tall, red, wooden cup is my favorite.

You could not, however, insert “her” into this list.

The tall, her, wooden cup is my favorite.

So while there is merit in describing determiners as adjectives or “my” as a “possessive adjective,” beware of taking this simplistic definition and running with it. Pronouns exist in an ambiguous and oft-discussed space of English grammar, so take the time to understand any codification of their bits and bobs.

Possessive Pronouns - Key Takeaways

  • A possessive pronoun indicates that someone or something has or owns something else.
  • In terms of English grammar, possessive pronouns are one case of pronouns. Specifically, they are of the genitive case.
  • The genitive case shows possession.
  • There are two kinds of genitives for pronouns: independent (that is mine) and dependent (that is my plate).
  • Alternatively, you can classify some possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, its, their) as possessive adjectives, although beware treating "possessive adjectives" as ordinary adjectives.

Frequently Asked Questions about Possessive Pronouns

A possessive pronoun indicates that someone or something has or owns something else.

You can divide possessive pronouns in different ways. One way is to divide them into their genitive forms, the independent genitive pronoun (e.g., That is mine) and the dependent genitive pronoun (e.g., That is my cup). The dependent genitive requires an object. You can also call the dependent genitive pronouns "possessive adjectives" because they function similarly to adjectives, as they modify a noun. In this second way of viewing English pronouns, you would call mine a possessive pronoun and my a possessive adjective.

A possessive pronoun indicates that someone or something has or owns something else. Some example sentences would be, "That's mine" and "I'm yours."

A pronoun fills in for another noun. It doesn't necessarily show possession (e.g., "It is here"). A possessive pronoun indicates that someone or something has or owns something else (e.g., "The cat is mine").

There are not many possessive pronouns, although the precise number depends on how you count them. However, you can quickly memorize them and chart the possibilities.

Final Possessive Pronouns Quiz

Question

What is a pronoun?

Show answer

Answer

A pronoun fills in for another noun.

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Question

What is a possessive pronoun?

Show answer

Answer

A possessive pronoun indicates that someone or something has or owns something else.

Show question

Question

Which is a possessive pronoun?

Show answer

Answer

Their

Show question

Question

What is case in terms of English grammar?

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Answer

The case of a word changes based on its role in the sentence (e.g., whether it acts, is acted upon, or possesses something).

Show question

Question

Possessive pronouns are in what English case?

Show answer

Answer

Genitive.

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Question

What is the first-person singular independent genitive pronoun?

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Answer

Mine

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Question

What is the first-person plural dependent genitive pronoun?

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Answer

Our

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Question

What is the second-person singular dependent genitive pronoun?

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Answer

Your

Show question

Question

What is the second-person plural independent genitive pronoun?

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Answer

Your

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Question

What is the third-person singular dependent genitive pronoun?

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Answer

His

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Question

What is the first-person plural dependent genitive pronoun?

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Answer

Our

Show question

Question

"That is yours."

What is "yours" an example of?

Show answer

Answer

Independent genitive

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Question

"That is our school."

What is "our" an example of?

Show answer

Answer

Dependent genitive

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Question

Where does a dependent possessive pronoun appear?

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Answer

Before what it possesses.

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Question

Where does an independent pronoun appear?

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Answer

As the object in a sentence

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Question

Can a dependent possessive pronoun assist a subject in a sentence?

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Answer

Yes. It can assist the subject or an object.

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Question

What is another name for dependent genitive pronouns?

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Answer

Possessive adjectives.

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Question

What are the possessive adjectives?

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Answer

My, your, his, her, its, their.

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Question

"The possessive adjectives always work like adjectives."

True or false?

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Answer

False. For instance, you could not list one the way you could an adjective. This is not correct: "The tall, her, wooden cup is my favorite."

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