What is a Possessive Pronoun? Explained

Are you wondering what is a possessive pronoun? This guide will set the record straight, so you can use these words properly every time.

A possessive pronoun is an English word that shows possession of an object. It is a special form of a personal pronoun designed to show the idea of possession.

Though possessive pronouns are not hard to understand, they do require a little bit of practice to get right. As you build your skills as a writer, here's what you need to know about these common words, and some common mistakes to avoid when using possessive pronouns.

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Exploring What Is a Possessive Pronoun

What is a possessive pronoun?

When an English writer makes a noun into a possessive, the word typically gets an apostrophe followed by an “s” to show possession. For example:

  • The dog's bone may be buried in the backyard.

The possessive form of the word “dog” is “dog's.” However, you would not add an apostrophe s to the end of a pronoun, as in:

  • The bone buried in the backyard was he's.

That does not make sense in English grammar. Instead, you would use a completely different form of the pronoun, which in this case is “his,” as in:

  • The bone buried in the backyard was his.

The Definition of Possessive Pronoun

So what is a good possessive pronoun definition? A possessive pronoun is the form of a pronoun that shows ownership over another noun. In the English language, this requires the writer to change the pronoun form to show the idea of ownership.

What are the Possessive Pronouns?

What are the possessive pronouns?
A possessive pronoun is the form of a pronoun that shows ownership over another noun

In order to use possessive pronouns correctly, you must know what they are. Here is a list of the subjective pronouns with their possessive counterparts:

  • I: mine
  • You: yours
  • He: his
  • She: hers
  • It: its
  • They: theirs
  • We: ours

Notice that in almost every cause, except for you and it, the spelling of the pronoun changes completely when you make it possessive. 

These possessive pronouns can also be called absolute possessive pronouns, independent possessive pronouns, or strong possessive pronouns. These do not require a word that they modify. They can stand alone, as in:

  • I told the librarian that the book was mine.
  • Is that piece of pizza hers?
  • Give him the paycheck because it's his fair wage.

Possessive Pronouns As Possessive Adjectives

Some possessive pronouns function as adjectives or determiners. They stand in front of a noun to describe it. When used in this way, they take a slightly different form.

Here are the possessive determiners or adjective pronouns:

  • My
  • Your
  • His
  • Her
  • Its
  • Our
  • Your
  • Their

Here is how they might get used in a sentence:

  • Please give me my book.
  • Is that your sister over there?
  • They stood behind their ideals. 

Some of the possessive adjectives, its and his, are the same as the other possessive pronouns. In this case, the way the word is used in the sentence determines which type it is. For instance:

  • He asked for his check at the end of the meal (Possessive adjective use)
  • John took the last piece of the pie, claiming it as his. (Possessive pronoun use)

Possessive Pronouns and Number and Gender

Possessive pronouns must agree with their antecedents in both number and gender. The pronouns he, she, her, hers and his all have gender and must match their antecedent.

Pronouns also have numbers. He, she, it and I and their possessive forms, her, hers, his, its, my and mine all are singular. We, our, they, their, and theirs are all plural and refer to at least two people or things.

You, you, and yours are unique. These refer to either singular or plural antecedents. The context of the sentence will determine the use.

What Is The Correct Use Of Possessive Pronouns?

Possessive pronouns are always used to show ownership. Typically, they show ownership over another noun that has already been described in the writing, but maybe not in the same sentence.

Possessive pronouns allow you to simplify your writing. Instead of repeating nouns and making them possessive, you can simply use the possessive form. For example:

  • Samuel recorded the students' grades in Samuel's grade book.
  • Samuel recorded the students' grades in his grade book.

The second sentence reads more clearly and concisely. Also:

  • The car was Josh and Tamara's.
  • The car was theirs.

This pair clearly shows how possessive pronouns can simplify your writing.

Possessive Pronouns Must Replace Nouns

In order for a possessive pronoun to make sense, it must have an antecedent. The antecedent is the noun it replaces. For example:

  • Sarah asked her brother when their parent's anniversary was.

In this sentence “Sarah” is the antecedent for “her.” “Sarah” and “brother” are the antecedents for “their.”

Typically, the antecedent shows up either in the same sentence or in the same paragraph, but the reader should understand who or what the antecedent is.

Possessive Pronouns and Gerunds

A gerund is an action word that is used as a noun in a sentence. It typically ends in -ing. Possessive pronouns are often paired with gerunds, and when they are, they always come before the gerund.

The pairing of a gerund with a possessive pronoun directly impacts the meaning of the sentence. For example:

  • Johnathan loves your singing.

In this sentence, Johnathan loves the singing that you produce. Your is a possessive pronoun describing singing. IF you said:

  • Johnathan loves you singing.

The meaning of the sentence changes slightly. Without the possessive pronoun, Johnathan does not love the singing, but rather you when you are singing.

Common Grammatical Error: Its and It's

Possessive pronouns can trip up some writers because they are easily confused with other words. Specifically, its and it's are a common mistake.

Its is the possessive pronoun form. It can stand alone or work as a possessive adjective, depending on how the sentence is worded. It never has an apostrophe.

It's is an abbreviation for it is. This contraction always has an apostrophe. One way to remember the difference is to note that the apostrophe takes the place of the letter “i” in “is.”

Examples of Its vs It's

Because it is such a common mistake, a closer look at its vs it's is valuable. Here are some sentences that use these words correctly:

  • It's cloudy but warm outside today. (contraction for it is)
  • Would you please give that dog its food? (possessive referring to a dog)
  • I was sad because it's my grandmother's birthday and I can't call her today. (contraction for it is)
  • The book sat on its shelf, waiting for someone to pick it up and read it. (possessive referring to the dog)

Common Grammatical Error: They're Vs Their

Both they're and their are forms of the pronoun they, but they are not used in the same way. Their is always the spelling for the possessive form. They're is the contraction of they and are. 

Remember, possessive pronouns never use apostrophes. Thus, they're must not be possessive.

Examples of They're vs Their

Seeing some examples of these commonly misused words will help you keep them straight. Here are some examples that use they're and their correctly.

  • The students handed in their papers. (possessive referring to students)
  • They're going to have a field trip at the end of the week. (contraction for they are)
  • If the students want to go, they have to have their parents sign the permission slip. (possessive referring to students)
  • If any students do not have the permission slip, they're going to have a free day in the gym. (contraction for they are)

A Final Word On What Is A Possessive Pronoun

The possessive pronouns show ownership over something, and they replace a noun somewhere else in the passage. They can be independent or absolute possessive pronouns, depending on how the writer uses them.

The independent possessive pronouns are:

  • My
  • Your
  • His
  • Her
  • Its
  • Our
  • Their

The absolute possessive pronouns are:

  • Mine
  • Yours
  • His
  • hers
  • Its 
  • Ours
  • Theirs

These words help writers simplify their writing to make it more concise while keeping the meaning in place.

FAQs on What is a Possessive Pronoun

Do possessive pronouns use apostrophes?

No, possessive pronouns never use apostrophes. The word “it's” is commonly misused as a possessive pronoun, but this word is a contraction for “it is.” Only possessive nouns use apostrophes.

What is a plural possessive pronoun?

A plural possessive pronoun is a possessive pronoun with a plural antecedent. These include their/theirs, our/ours and yours. Yours can also be a singular possessive pronoun depending on its antecedent.

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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