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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
Frequently asked questions
- What is a possessive pronoun?
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
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