Possessive Pronouns | Examples, Definition & List

Possessive pronouns are pronouns that are used to indicate the ownership (possession) of something or someone by something or someone else. The English possessive pronouns are mine, ours, yours, his, hers, theirs, and whose.

Possessive pronouns are closely related to possessive determiners, which are used differently since they appear before a noun instead of replacing it. The possessive determiners are my, our, your, his, her, its, their, and whose.

Possessive pronouns and determiners
Possessive pronouns Possessive determiners
I don’t think this one is mine. This is my dog, Fido.
Do you know which table is ours? At our house, we have some special Christmas traditions.
Yours is the nicest living room I’ve ever been in. I’d love to get your feedback.
Those books are his. I don’t know; I’ve never met his family.
The problem is hers to deal with; I’m not getting involved. What are her hobbies?
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is best remembered for its final movement.
You haven’t had real chocolate until you’ve tried theirs. If they want to get worked up about it, that’s their prerogative.
Whose are these papers? The house, whose windows were still open, had been abandoned weeks ago.
Note
Its can technically be used as a possessive pronoun (i.e., standing on its own in a statement like “the toys are its”), but this usage is very rare in modern English and best avoided if you want your writing to read smoothly. Its is normally only used as a possessive determiner (e.g., “its toys”).

How are possessive pronouns used in sentences?

Possessive pronouns are used in place of nouns to make statements about ownership more concisely, without needing to repeat the nouns representing the owner and the possession:

  • Randall says that the pencil case is Randall’s pencil case.
  • Randall says that the pencil case is his.

“Possession” in the context of possessive pronouns and determiners can mean literal ownership of something (e.g., a book, a company), but it can also indicate more figurative kinds of possession, such as the possession of a relationship with someone or some place.

Examples: Possessives indicating relationships
This is my sister, Jane.

I want to be yours forever. Will you marry me?

He really missed his hometown.

She thought that no boss could be worse than hers.

Agreement with the antecedent

The antecedent of a possessive pronoun is the person or thing that possesses what- or whomever is being referred to. For example, in the statement “Diana says that the car is hers,” the antecedent of “hers” is “Diana,” the owner of the car.

The possessive pronoun (or determiner) must show correct pronoun-antecedent agreement in person, gender, and number. The possessive pronoun “hers,” for example, is feminine (because Diana is female), third-person (because the speaker is not Diana and is not addressing her directly), and singular (because Diana is one person).

Examples: Agreement with the antecedent
Fabian expects that the prize will be his.

I like my car, but I wish my parents would let me drive theirs sometimes.

The building is about to collapse under its own weight.

Subject-verb agreement

Because of the rules of subject-verb agreement, any possessive pronoun that is used as the subject of a sentence can be followed by either a singular or a plural verb form depending on whether what it refers to (i.e., the thing possessed, not the possessor) is singular or plural.

Examples: Singular and plural verbs with possessive pronouns
Her favorite color is purple, but mine is green.

I know you’re a bit scared of dogs, but I promise mine are really friendly.

Possessive pronouns vs. determiners

Possessive pronouns and possessive determiners are closely related and sometimes identical in spelling, but they play different grammatical roles.

  • Possessive pronouns always stand on their own, not modifying a noun but replacing one.
  • Possessive determiners (sometimes called possessive adjectives) instead modify a noun that comes after them.

Because possessive pronouns don’t allow you to specify what the possession in question is, you should use them only when this is already clear from the context. Otherwise, use a possessive determiner followed by a noun specifying the identity of the possession.

  • Once each participant had finished theirs, they could move on to the next task.
  • Once each participant had finished their questionnaire, they could move on to the next task.

Its vs. it’s

Its and it’s are commonly confused, but they have quite different meanings.

  • Its is the correct spelling of the possessive determiner used to indicate something belonging to an animal or thing.
  • It’s is a shortening of the phrase “it is” or “it has.” The apostrophe is used to indicate that it’s a contraction—not to indicate possession.
Examples: Its vs. it’s
The cat guarded its territory ruthlessly.

It’s best to get a good night’s sleep before your exam.

Tip
The same confusion sometimes occurs between who’s and whose. Again, the spelling with the apostrophe is a contraction (of “who is” or “who has”), while the spelling with no apostrophe is the possessive.

Though possession is marked with an apostrophe in nouns (e.g., “Jeremy’s dad’s house’s garage”), this is not how possessive pronouns are formed. This means that spellings such as “your’s,” “their’s,” “our’s,” and “her’s” are always wrong.

Whose

Unlike the other possessives, whose is not classed as a personal pronoun but as an interrogative pronoun or a relative pronoun. It can also be used as an interrogative or relative determiner.

  • Interrogative pronouns and determiners introduce a direct or indirect question.
  • Relative pronouns and determiners introduce a relative clause that provides more information about a noun phrase.
Examples: Whose in different roles
Whose is this flask?

I wonder whose entry will win the competition.

The man whose dog was reported lost last week still hasn’t been reunited with it.

The chair, one of whose legs has fallen off, is quite unstable.

Frequently asked questions

What is a possessive pronoun?

A possessive pronoun is a pronoun used to indicate indicate ownership (e.g., “This hat is mine”). The English possessive pronouns are mine, ours, yours, his, hers, theirs, and whose.

A possessive pronoun stands on its own, replacing a noun phrase (e.g., in “Jessie says this chair is hers,” “hers” replaces “Jessie’s chair”).

They should not be confused with possessive determiners, which instead appear before a noun, modifying it (e.g., “this is her chair”). The possessive determiners are my, our, your, his, her, its, their, and whose.

Is “my” a pronoun?

My is usually classed as a possessive determiner (or possessive adjective): a word that indicates possession (telling you whom or what something or someone belongs to) by modifying the following noun (e.g., “my cat”).

It’s normally not considered a pronoun because it doesn’t stand alone in place of a noun. But it is closely related to the possessive pronoun mine, and some grammars class my and other possessive determiners as “weak possessive pronouns.”

However, it’s more useful to define my as a determiner, because this more accurately describes its role in a sentence.

Is “our” a pronoun?

Our is usually classed as a possessive determiner (or possessive adjective): a word that indicates possession (telling you whom or what something or someone belongs to) by modifying the following noun (e.g., “our grandmother”).

It’s normally not considered a pronoun because it doesn’t stand alone in place of a noun. But it is closely related to the possessive pronoun ours, and some grammars class our and other possessive determiners as “weak possessive pronouns.”

However, it’s more useful to define our as a determiner, because this more accurately describes its role in a sentence.

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Caulfield, J. (2023, January 20). Possessive Pronouns | Examples, Definition & List. Scribbr. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/nouns-and-pronouns/possessive-pronouns/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Is this article helpful?
Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.