A Complete Guide to Possessive Pronouns & Adjectives

Hello everyone,

Do you ever get confused about when to use words like my, your, his, her, its, our, and their?

These are all examples of possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives in English.

Don’t worry, by the end of this lesson you’ll be an expert on using them correctly!

What Are Possessive Pronouns?

Possessive pronouns are words that show ownership or possession.

They take the place of nouns to avoid repeating the same noun over and over again.

Some examples of possessive pronouns in English are:

Mine
Yours
His
Hers
Its
Ours
Theirs

You use these words instead of repeating the noun that owns or possesses something.

For example:

“That backpack is John’s.” = “That backpack is his.”
“Those shoes belong to Sarah.” = “Those shoes are hers.”
“The dog loves its toy.”

Using the possessive pronoun makes the sentence more concise and clearer instead of repeating the same noun phrase.

What Are Possessive Adjectives?

Possessive adjectives are similar to possessive pronouns, but they are used to modify a noun instead of replacing it entirely.

The possessive adjectives are:

My
Your
His
Her
Its
Our
Their

You use these words before a noun to show who or what the noun belongs to.

For example:

“That is my book.”
“Your shoes are untied.”
“The cat licked its paw.”
“We finished our homework.”

The possessive adjective describes whose book, shoes, paw, or homework it is.

When To Use Possessive Pronouns

Use a possessive pronoun when you are replacing a noun phrase or name that shows possession.

The possessive pronoun takes the place of that noun phrase entirely.

For example:

“That car belongs to Jack.” = “That car is his.”
“Those mittens are Sarah’s.” = “Those mittens are hers.”
“The soccer ball is the team’s.” = “The soccer ball is theirs.”

When there is no noun after the word showing possession, you need to use the possessive pronoun form instead of the possessive adjective.

When To Use Possessive Adjectives

Use a possessive adjective when there is a noun after the word showing possession.

The possessive adjective modifies or describes that noun.

For example:

“This is my hat.”
“That dog is chasing its tail.”
“We packed our suitcases for the trip.”

Since the words “hat”, “tail”, and “suitcases” come after the possessive word, you need to use the possessive adjective form instead of the pronoun.

His, Her, Its

One of the trickier possessive forms is knowing when to use his, her, or its.

This depends on whether the thing possessing is a male (his), female (her), or non-living thing (its).

For people:

“John lost his phone.”
“Sally broke her glasses.”

For animals, use “it” unless you know the animal’s sex for certain:

“The dog chased its tail.”
“The mother bird fed her babies.”

For objects and non-living things:

“The tree lost its leaves in fall.”
“The country celebrated its birthday.”

Its vs It’s

Its and it’s are two words that are commonly confused.

The word “its” with no apostrophe is the possessive form, as in:

“The dog chased its tail.”
“The book was missing its last page.”

The word “it’s” with an apostrophe is the contracted form of “it is” or “it has”:

“It’s going to rain today.”
“It’s been a long day.”

Whose vs Who’s

Similarly, “whose” and “who’s” are two separate words.

“Whose” is the possessive form of “who”:
“Whose backpack is this?”
“I don’t know whose it is.”

“Who’s” is the contracted form of “who is”:
“Who’s going to the party?”
“Who’s the teacher for this class?”

Singular vs Plural Possessive Pronouns

All of the possessive pronouns and adjectives we’ve covered so far are singular.

But what if you want to show possession for plural nouns?

In that case, you use the plural possessive pronouns:

Ours
Yours
Theirs

For example:

“Those toys are ours.” (The toys belong to us)
“Isn’t this yours?” (Asking if something belongs to you)
“Those cookies are theirs.” (The cookies belong to them)

You can also make possessive adjectives plural by adding an ‘s’ at the end:

“We played with our toys.”
“The kids got their lunches.”
“The mothers held their babies.”

Double Possessives

Sometimes you need to show possession for something that is already possessive.

This is called a double possessive.

For example:

“That is a friend of John’s.”
“Those are sisters of ours.”
“That painting is an uncle of hers.”

In these cases, you use the possessive pronoun form after the noun that is doing the possessing (John’s, ours, hers).

Avoiding Possessive Confusion

Even native English speakers sometimes get confused about when to use possessive pronouns versus possessive adjectives.

If you find yourself unsure, try this trick:

Replace the word you’re unsure about with the noun it refers to.

If the sentence makes sense with just the noun, you should use the possessive adjective.

But if it doesn’t make sense, use the possessive pronoun instead.

For example:

“Those are Maria’s books.”

If you replace Maria’s with the noun it refers to, it makes sense:

“Those are the books of Maria.”

So Maria’s is the correct possessive adjective form.

But look at this example:

“Those books are hers.”

If you replace hers with the noun “Maria”, it doesn’t make sense:

“Those books are Maria.”

So, hers is the correct possessive pronoun form.

With this trick and the examples from this guide, you’ll be able to master possessive pronouns and adjectives in no time!

Let me know if you have any other questions.

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Check out these awesome grammar books I recommend:

High School English Gram & Comp – by WREN & MARTIN

English Grammar in Use Book with Answers: A Self-study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Learners of English

OXFORD ENGLISH GRAMMAR COURSE ADVANCED WITH KEY (WITH EBOOK)

English Grammar (Language Workbooks) 

English Grammar: The Basics: The Basics

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