Possessive adjectives: what are they and how to use them?

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The possessive adjectives (possessive adjectives) are used in order to express the sense of ownership. Although it is common to understand them as pronouns, they are not, as they do not replace any substantive or nominal phrase. On the contrary, the function of possessive adjectives is precisely to accompany the noun/noun phrase that points to possession.

Consequently, it is understood that the possessive adjective is a modifier of a nominal sentence, as it will always accompany a noun, to have its full meaning. In this text, we will study the possessiveadjectives, their use and how to differentiate them from possessive pronouns.

Let’s go!

Possessive adjectives are part of a nominal sentence.
Possessive adjectives are part of a nominal sentence.

What are the possessiveadjectives?

For each person in the speech, there is a possessive adjective, so the possessiveadjectives they are a small group. Unlike the Portuguese language, the possessiveadjectivesdo not vary even in genre* (only in the third person singular) not even in number. For example, in the first person singular, in Portuguese, we have mine, mine, mine and mine, while in English we only have

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my. Therefore, when translating a sentence that has a possessive adjective, it is important to pay attention to the context.

Note the possessiveadjectivesand their respective translations:

  • my - my (s), my (s)
  • Your – your(s), your(s)
  • his - his
  • her – her
  • its – his, her
  • Our – our(s), our(s)
  • Your – yours, yours (yours)
  • their - their their
  • Examples

  • my car is yellow.
    (Mine car is yellow.)
  • I told him your name.
    (I told him your Name.)
  • she is selling her laptop.
    (she is selling the laptop her.)
  • Our school is very cool.
    (Our school is very nice.)
  • his parents arrive today.
    (The parents his arrive today.)

In all examples, the possessive adjectives (my, your, her, our, his) accompany a noun, forming a nominal sentence and indicating some possession or property.

Also know: reflectivepronouns: how and when to use them?

How to use the possessiveadjectives?

The main rule of use of possessive adjectives addresses the issue of the noun phrase, that is, the possessiveadjective must always accompany asubstantive. He cannot come alone:

did you see my?

(Did you see mine?)

This prayer is incorrect, because when someone says my, it is expected that there is a complement with something that belongs to someone:

did you see my magazine?

(Did you see my magazine?)

So, it is clear that Thefunction of the possessive adjective is tomodifier of the accompanying nominal phrase or noun.

Possessive adjectives also often accompany human body parts or clothing.|1|:

  • she broke her leg.
    (She broke her leg her.)
  • my shoulder is hurt.
    (Mine shoulder is hurt.)
  • Carl’s wallet is inside his pocket.
    (Carl's wallet is in his pocket his.)

Finally, use the possessiveadjectivesfor designate some possession or property. We should not confuse them with other pronouns, as they are not pronouns. They accompany a noun or a nominal phrase, but do not, under any circumstances, replace it.

Read more: Relativepronouns: that, which, who, whom, whose

Difference between possessiveadjectives and possessivepronouns

The previous topics demonstrate why so many students at English language are confused with the possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns, since both structures refer to ownership or ownership. So, to facilitate the learning of both, it is important to keep in mind that only possessive pronouns can replace a noun or a nominal phrase..

Consequently, if in the clause the noun or the noun phrase is accompanied by some modifier, we have a possessive adjective; if they are alone, we will have a possessive pronoun.

Look at the examples:

  • Example 1

martha went to herhometown, which is the same as mine.

(Martha went to the hometownher, which is the same of mine.)

See that in this sentence we have her and mine, being the first followed by the noun hometown, therefore, can only be a possessive adjective. The second doesn't follow anything, as it is replacing the possessive adjective + hometown.

  • Example 2

they brought his materials, but not hers.

(They brought the materialshis, but not hers.)

his is following materials, but to avoid a repetition after but, a possessive pronoun is used instead of hermaterials (her materials).

  • Example 3

— Hi, what's your name?

(Hello, what is the your Name?)

my name is hellen, and yours?

(Mine Name is hellen, and your?)

mine is Paul.

(My is Paul.)

In this small introductory dialogue, repetition is also avoided when the first subject asks the other person for “her name”. Note that it was used only yours, even in the answer, we chose, again, the pronoun mine instead of yourname and myname.

solved exercises

question 1

Choose the appropriate alternative to complete the following sentence:

“_____ friends are foreigners. _____ families are from Canada and the USA.”

a) My - their

b) You - your

c) I - my

d) He - you


Alternative to, as it is the only one that has only possessive adjectives.

question 2

In the sentence "her relatives gave her a new book”, what is the grammatical class of the two words “her”?

a) Object pronoun – possessive adjective
b) Object pronoun – possessive pronoun
c) Possessive adjective – object pronoun
d) Possessive adjective - subject pronoun


Alternative c, since the first expresses possession and the second indicates the object of the sentence.


|1| EASTWOOD, J. Oxford guide to English grammar. Oxford, 2002.

By Mrs. Patricia Veronica Moreira
English teacher

Source: Brazil School - https://brasilescola.uol.com.br/ingles/possessive-adjectives.htm


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