What Are Possessive Adjectives And How Do You Use Them?

We all have our favorite color. Your favorite might be blue. Your friend Nick might consider green to be his favorite color. Your other friend Akari might say that red is her favorite color. Or maybe they agree with you and both have blue as their favorite color, too. Regardless of who likes what, we all have a favorite that belongs to us.

In our colorful example above, we used adjectives to say who had a particular color as their favorite. If you know a bit about grammar, you already know that adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns and pronouns. However, we used a specific type of adjective to describe who liked each color: possessive adjectives.

What is a possessive adjective?

A possessive adjective is an adjective that modifies a noun by identifying who has ownership or possession of it. For example, in the sentence Andrew lost his keys the word his is a possessive adjective that indicates the keys belong to Andrew. The most commonly used possessive adjectives are my, your, his, her, its, our, their, and whose. In order, these adjectives correspond to the pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who.

As their name suggests, possessive adjectives are often used to express possession or ownership. For example, the sentence Gregory put his hat on the table uses the adjective his to express the idea that Greg owns the hat. We can also use possessive adjectives to refer to figurative things that someone has, as in Ally described her dream to me.

Possessive adjectives are also used to refer to people who have a relation to someone or something. For example, the sentence Vince and Helena are with their parents uses the possessive adjective their to express that the parents are related to Vince and Helena; they don’t “own” their parents, but their parents are something they have.

When deciding which possessive adjective to use, you need to figure out which pronoun you would use to identify the same person or thing that owns or has the noun you are modifying. For example,

 

  • The mother bird was building ____ nest.

In this sentence, we want to modify nest with a possessive adjective. The nest belongs to the mother bird. Because the bird is female, we would use the pronoun she. The possessive adjective used with she is her. So, our sentence should read:

 

  • The mother bird was building her nest.

Need a refresher on pronouns? You can review all the types of pronouns here.

List of possessive adjectives

As mentioned earlier, the most common possessive adjectives are:

 

  • my
  • your
  • her
  • his
  • its
  • our
  • their
  • whose

However, you may see other possessive adjectives in addition to these. Every personal pronoun has a possessive adjective that goes along with it. For this reason, you may see other potential possessive adjectives such as hir and xyr that a person may use if they choose not to use the gendered pronouns he or she.

Gender-neutral and nonbinary possessive adjectives

In the above list of possessive adjectives, the words her and his are unique in that they are used to specify a person’s (or animal’s) gender. While these are quite common adjectives, there are plenty of other possessive adjectives available that don’t carry any kind of association with a particular gender.

Learn more about how nonbinary and transgender identities are paving a way through the language of gender.

It is important not to misidentify someone, even accidentally, by carelessly using gendered language when it isn’t needed. Luckily, there is an easy way to ensure your speech and writing is inclusive of all gender identities: you can use gender-neutral language. If you don’t know which possessive adjective is best to use—or would prefer not to use a gendered pronoun at all—the word their is just what you need.

The adjective their can be (and is increasingly) used as a singular gender-neutral or nonbinary substitute for the gender-specific adjectives her and his. (Other terms are also used in this way, but their is the most common.) It can be used when you don’t want or need to specify someone’s gender. It can also be used when referring to a person who identifies as nonbinary. In this case, it’s always important to use the adjectives (and pronouns) that the person prefers.

To learn more, explore in-depth resources about the adjective their and gender-neutral language.

Where do you include a possessive adjective in a sentence?

Unlike many other adjectives, possessive adjectives can only be used directly in front of the noun that they modify:

Correct: We went to my house.
Incorrect: This house is my.

Correct: The lions hunted their prey.
Incorrect: I want to give the lions this toy because I know it is their.

Possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns

We can’t use possessive adjectives as a subject, object, or as a subject complement. Instead, we need words known as possessive pronouns. Because they are pronouns, these words can be used in places that possessive adjectives can’t. The possessive pronouns that correspond to each pronoun and possessive adjective are:

 

  • I : my : mine
  • you : your : yours
  • she : her : hers
  • he : his : his
  • it : its : its (Note: In general, it is preferred not to use its by itself as a pronoun.)
  • we : our : ours
  • they : their : theirs
  • who: whose : whose

You’ll notice that the words his and whose are both the possessive adjective and possessive pronouns used for the words he and who, which makes these two slightly easier to use than the others.

Possessive adjectives and determiners

Unlike nouns and verbs, the different categories of adjectives are often less defined. For example, many style guides or sources of grammar advice consider possessive adjectives to actually be a class of words known as determiners, in which case they may be referred to as possessive determiners or even just possessives.

Unlike many other adjectives, possessive adjectives can act similarly to pronouns in that they can replace possessive nouns. For example, the sentences I found Fred’s cat and I found his cat have the same meaning. Additionally, possessive adjectives cannot be turned into superlative or comparative adjectives. Something can be slower than something else but something can’t be “our-er” or “my-er” than something else.

While these qualities may support classifying possessive adjectives as a different figure of speech, we consider words like my, your, and our to be adjectives rather than determiners. Not every style guide will take this approach, however, so don’t be surprised if you see words like these classified differently.

Possessive adjective examples in a sentence

The possessive adjective is in bold in each of the following sentences.

Example #1 

 

  • We looked everywhere for my dog. (The possessive adjective my modifies the noun dog to indicate that it belongs to me.)

Example #2

 

  • Their team was a lot better than our team. (The possessive adjectives their and our modify the word team to indicate who is represented by each team.)

Example #3 

 

  • Whose soda is this? (The possessive adjective whose modifies the noun soda. Whose is also an interrogative adjective so it is often used in questions to ask who the owner of an item is.)

Possessive adjective rules & best practices

Grammatically, the main thing to watch out for when it comes to possessive adjectives is that you don’t accidentally use them as nouns. Don’t use possessive adjectives as subjects, objects, or subject complements. You must use a possessive pronoun instead:

❌ Incorrect: This backpack is my.
✅ Correct: This backpack is mine.

❌ Incorrect: His cat is older than your.
✅ Correct: His cat is older than yours OR His cat is older than your cat.

Another useful thing to remember is that the possessive adjective their can be used to refer to a single person. Although their and they usually refer to multiple people or things, they can also be used to generally refer to a single person:

 

  • The banker sat in their chair.
  • Each person is responsible for their own property.

Because it isn’t a gendered word, their is a useful word to use if you don’t know how a person identifies themself:

 

  • I am meeting someone named Alex who agreed to sell me their extra ticket.

Rather than grammatical errors, the most common mistakes people make when it comes to possessive adjectives has to do with spelling. In particular, the following four errors are especially common:

Its and It’s: The word it’s is a contraction of “it is.”

 

  • The toy danced until its battery ran out.
  • It’s a really nice day outside today.

Your and You’re: The word you’re is a contraction of “you are.”

 

  • Tomorrow is your birthday.
  • You’re my best friend.

Whose and Who’s: The word who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.”

 

  • Whose idea was this?
  • Who’s going to come to the store with me?

Their, They’re, and There: The word they’re is a contraction of “they are.” The word there is a commonly used word with many meanings, but it isn’t used as a possessive adjective.

 

  • My kids are doing their homework.
  • The painters couldn’t make it today, so they’re coming tomorrow instead.
  • I looked for Brian at his house but he wasn’t there.

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Another adjective that sits close to its noun is the attributive adjective. Learn about them here.