What Are Possessive Pronouns?

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Possessive Pronouns

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."

possessive pronoun

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 "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 "wife's 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.)

Click on Two Possessive Pronouns

Getting ready...
Getting ready...
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Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...

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
Imy
This house bigger than my house.
mine
This house is bigger than mine.
youyour
Is this your wallet?
yours
Is this yours?
hehis
Use his car tomorrow morning.
his
Use his tomorrow morning.
sheher
I like her painting.
hers
I like hers.
itI can see its fin.[not used]
weour
You can use our lawnmower.
ours
You can use ours.
theytheir
Did they show you their plan?
theirs

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.

Why Should I Care about Possessive Pronouns?

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. (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.
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.
  • (The first "you're" is wrong. The second is correct.)
  • Forgive your enemies, but never forget there names.
  • Never go to a doctor who's office plants have died.
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.
  • (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.
(Alternative 2) Use "their" instead of "his."
  • Each student must take their invites to the receptionist.
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.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are possessive adjectives? What are absolute possessive pronouns? What are adjectives? What are nouns? What are pronouns? Indefinite adjectives Interrogative adjectives Predicate adjectives Glossary of grammatical terms