Possessive Pronoun

What Are Possessive Pronouns?

homesitemapA-Z grammar terms possessive pronoun
A possessive pronoun is a word that replaces a noun (or a noun phrase) and shows ownership. The possessive pronouns are "mine," "yours," "his," "hers," "ours," and "theirs."

Table of Contents

  • Easy Examples of Possessive Pronouns
  • Real-life Examples of Possessive Pronouns
  • Possessive Determiners Are Also Classified as Pronouns
  • Possessive Pronouns (Absolute Possessive Pronouns and Possessive Determiners)
  • A Summary of the Terminology
  • Why Possessive Pronouns Are Important
  • Test Time!
possessive pronoun

Easy Examples of Possessive Pronouns

  • Your painting is interesting, but I prefer hers.
  • (Here, the possessive pronoun "hers" replaces "her painting.")
  • You fixed John's car, didn't you? Will you look at mine please?
  • (Here, the possessive pronoun "mine" replaces "my car.")
  • This boat is ours!
  • (Here, the possessive pronoun "ours" replaces "our boat.")
  • Theirs is the office on the left.
  • (Here, the possessive pronoun "theirs" replaces "their office.")

Find the Possessive Pronoun Test

It's your go! Select the possessive pronoun.

Real-life Examples of Possessive Pronouns

Here are some examples in possessive pronouns (highlighted) in quotations.
  • Humans are the only animals that have children on purpose with the exception of guppies, who like to eat theirs. (Satirist P J O'Rourke)
  • (Here, "theirs" replaces the noun phrase "their guppies' children.")
  • A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost. (Rights campaigner Lucy Stone)
  • (Here, "hers" replaces the noun phrase "her name.")
  • People who have given us their complete confidence believe that they have a right to ours. The inference is false, a gift confers no rights. (Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche)
  • (Here, "ours" replaces the noun phrase "our complete confidence.")
  • I always check if the art across the street is better than mine. (Artist Andy Warhol)
  • (Here, "mine" replaces the noun phrase "my art.")

Possessive Determiners Are Also Classified as Pronouns

The possessive determiners "my," "your," "his," "her," "its," "our," and "their" (called possessive adjectives in traditional grammar) are also classified as possessive pronouns because they too replace nouns and show ownership. (They are said to be "pronominal," i.e., having the traits of a pronoun.) Look at this example:
  • Is that the Queen's hat? No, it's her crown.
  • (The possessive determiner "her" replaces the noun phrase "the Queen." That's why possessive determiners are classified as pronouns.)

Possessive Pronouns (Absolute Possessive Pronouns and Possessive Determiners)

Here is a list of personal pronouns with their corresponding possessive determiners and possessive pronouns:
Personal PronounPossessive DeterminerPossessive Pronoun
This house is bigger than my house.
This house is bigger than mine.
Is this your wallet?
Is this yours?
Use his car tomorrow morning.
Use his tomorrow morning.
I like her painting.
I like hers.
itI can see its fin.[not used]
You can use our lawnmower.
You can use ours.
Did they show you their plan?

Did they show you theirs?

A Summary of the Terminology

Here is a summary of the terms used to describe the different kinds of possessives:
  • Traditional Grammar. In traditional grammar, the term "personal pronoun" refers only to the standalone pronouns (e.g., "mine," "yours," "ours"), while the ones that modify nouns (e.g., "my dog," "your dog," "our dog") are called possessive adjectives.
  • Contemporary Grammar. In contemporary grammar, both the "mine" type and the "my" type are recognized as pronouns but, to avoid confusion, are referred to collectively as "possessives." The "mine" type are called "possessive pronouns" (or sometimes "absolute possessive pronouns" to avoid confusion), while the "my" type are called "possessive determiners."
If you disagree with this summary of the terminology, please tell us using this form.

Can You Identify Possessive Pronouns?

Why Possessive Pronouns Are Important

Here are three noteworthy points related to possessive pronouns ("yours," "hers," etc.) and possessive determiners ("your," "its," etc.).

(Point 1) Don't put an apostrophe in "yours," "hers," "ours," or "theirs."

By far the most common mistake related to possessive pronouns is including an apostrophe with "yours," "hers," "ours," or "theirs." There are no apostrophes in any possessive pronouns.
  • There are gods above gods. We have ours, and they have theirs. That's what's known as infinity. correct tick (French poet Jean Cocteau)

(Point 2) Don't confuse a possessive determiner with an identical-sounding contraction.

Grammar mistakes with possessive determiners are rare, but spelling mistakes with possessive determiners are common. Given how common these determiners are, misspelling them (particularly if you make a habit of it) will smash your credibility. There are four common spelling mistakes with possessive determiners, but fixing all four is easy because they're all made the same way – by confusing the possessive determiner with an identical-sounding contraction.

The contraction "it's" is not a possessive. "It's" is a contraction of "it is" or "it has." This is a 100% rule. If you can't expand your "it's" to "it is" or "it has," then it's wrong.
  • A country can be judged by the quality of it's proverbs. wrong cross
To some extent, this mistake is understandable because apostrophes are used for possession (e.g., "the dog's nose"). But "it's" has nothing to do with possession. No, really, it doesn't.

The same is true for "you're" (a contraction of "you are"), they're (a contraction of "they are") and "who's" (a contraction of "who is" or "who has"). Do not confuse these with "your," "their" or "there," or "whose."
  • Even if you fall on you're face, you're still moving forward. wrong cross
  • (The first "you're" is wrong. The second is correct.)
  • Forgive your enemies, but never forget there names. wrong cross
  • Never go to a doctor who's office plants have died. wrong cross
If you've used an apostrophe, test your apostrophe by expanding your word back into two words. If you can't, the apostrophe version is wrong.

(Point 3) There's no gender-neutral singular possessive determiner that can be used for people.

The possessive determiner "his" is used for males. Similarly, "her" is used for females. That's all fine. The problem is that the gender-neutral "its" can't be used for people. That gives us a problem. Look at this example:
  • Each student must take his invite to the receptionist. wrong cross
  • (What if the students aren't all male?)
Using "his" to denote "his/her" is outdated. Here are two good alternatives:

(Alternative 1) Reword your sentence to make it all plural.

  • All students must take their invites to the receptionist. correct tick

(Alternative 2) Use "their" instead of "his."

  • Each student must take their invites to the receptionist. correct tick
The lack of a gender-neutral singular possessive determiner for people has forced us to treat "their" as singular as well as plural. Read more about treating "they" and "their" as singular.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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