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What Is A Possessive Pronoun? Definition And Examples

What is your favorite food? What is your best friend’s favorite food? Is their favorite the same as yours? Or is yours different from theirs? While these questions probably made you hungry, they also show how we use pronouns in sentences. Pronouns are a major part of speech that replace nouns and can do all of the same jobs that nouns can. Our scrumptious questions used examples of a specific type of pronoun known as a possessive pronoun.

What is a possessive pronoun?

A possessive pronoun is a pronoun that is used to express ownership or possession. For example, the word hers is a possessive pronoun in the sentence Charlotte noticed that Seth’s dog was bigger than hers. The word hers indicates that “Charlotte’s dog” (the noun phrase being replaced by the word hers) belongs to Charlotte.

Like possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns have other uses, too. For example, they can be used to express origin or a special relationship:

 

  • Origin: Chicago is Will’s home and Atlanta is ours. (Ours replaces “our home.” This sentence says that we originate from the city of Atlanta.)
  • Relationship: I brought my younger sister to the party and Mila brought hers, too. (Hers replaces “her sister.” Mila doesn’t “own” or “possess” her sister, but she is related to her.)

List of possessive pronouns

There are a bunch of different possessive pronouns that you can use, which can be either singular or plural if they are referring to one person or multiple people.

Singular possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns are singular if they only refer to only one person or thing. Singular possessive pronouns include:

 

  • mine
  • yours
  • hers
  • his
  • its
  • theirs (sometimes—more on this later)

Plural possessive pronouns

A possessive pronoun is plural if it refers to more than one person or thing. Plural possessive pronouns include:

 

  • ours
  • yours
  • theirs

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

📝 Grammar note: In English, possessive nouns are formed using apostrophes. But, English grammar always loving exceptions, possessive pronouns do not take an apostrophe. One common—and understandable—pitfall is writing it’s (a contraction for it is) instead of its (the possessive form of it).

What is a gender-neutral and nonbinary pronoun?

In the above list of singular possessive pronouns, the words hers and his are unique in that they are used to specify a person’s (or animal’s) gender. While these two are the most common, there are plenty of other possessive pronouns available that don’t carry any kind of association with a particular 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 pronoun is best to use—or would prefer not to use a gendered pronoun at all—the word theirs is just what you need.

The pronoun theirs can be (and is increasingly) used as a singular gender-neutral or nonbinary substitute for the gender-specific pronouns his and hers. (Other terms are also used in this way, but theirs is the most common.) Theirs 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 pronouns (and adjectives) that the person prefers.

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

Examples of possessive pronouns

Let’s practice using possessive pronouns in sentences. In each of the following sentences, a noun phrase will be used first and then a possessive pronoun will be used to replace it.

Singular possessive pronouns

 

  • That is her car and this one here is my car.
  • That is her car and this one here is mine.

 

  • Let’s see if Dave’s arm is longer than your arm.
  • Let’s see if Dave’s arm is longer than yours.

 

  • Penelope said we can stay at her house, but I don’t know which one is her house.
  • Penelope said we can stay at her house, but I don’t know which one is hers.

Plural possessive pronouns

 

  • Emilia’s party was great, but just wait until she comes to our party.
  • Emilia’s party was great, but just wait until she comes to ours.

 

  • This is my cookie pile, and that one is the one for all of you.
  • This is my cookie pile, and that one is yours.

 

  • We don’t think that our team can defeat their team.
  • We don’t think that our team can defeat theirs.

These alluring words will have you basking in the glow of the beauty English has to offer. Add them to your writing once you’ve caught your breath.

How to use possessive pronouns

Before we discuss possessive pronouns specifically, it would be a good idea to review how pronouns in general are used in sentences. In short, pronouns replace nouns and noun phrases. This means that, grammatically, pronouns follow the same rules as nouns and can be used anywhere a noun can (i.e. as a subject or object).

Proper usage

Possessive pronouns can be used as either subjects or objects:

 

  • Subject: Bill already got his package. Mine isn’t here yet.
  • Object: Diana found my backpack, but we still haven’t found hers.

When used in sentences, a possessive pronoun matches the number of the owner and not the owned object(s). For example,

 

  • I saw Patrick carrying a book. I think this book is his. (The owner is Patrick.)
  • I saw Partick carrying books. I think these books are his. (The owner is still Patrick.)

Difficulty arises when a possessive pronoun is used as a subject. When used as a subject, the verb will be singular or plural based on the number of the people or things being discussed and not the owner. For example,

 

  • Janet’s favorite movie is a romantic comedy. Mine is a horror film. (One movie.)
  • Janet’s favorite pizza toppings are pepperoni and sausage. Mine are ham and pineapple. (Multiple pizza toppings.)

As with all other pronouns, it is important to make it clear what noun/noun phrase is being replaced by a possessive pronoun. Most of the time, a reader can use context to determine what person or thing is being referred to even if isn’t explicitly stated:

 

  • Unclear: We found ours. (Our what?)
  • Clear: Scott found his cat and we found ours. (Although the sentence doesn’t specifically say it, we can use context to determine that ours refers to “our cat.”)

The possessive pronoun his

The word his can be classified as either a possessive pronoun or a possessive adjective depending on how it is used in a sentence. If it is used as a subject or an object, it is considered to be a pronoun. If it is used to modify a noun, it is considered to be an adjective.

 

  • Possessive pronoun: I put on my shoes and Derek put on his. (His is used as an object. His is a pronoun in this sentence.)
  • Possessive adjective: I think this is his hat. (His is modifying the noun hat. His is an adjective in this sentence.)

Adverbs are used to intensify an action or describe the circumstances in which an action takes place. Can you name 6 types of adverbs? Learn about their use here.

Its as a possessive pronoun

Finally, we need to look at the pronoun its. This word can be used just like the other possessive pronouns. For example,

 

  • The puppy immediately knew which ball was its. (Its replaces “the puppy’s ball.”)
  • The tree’s leaves were different from all of the others. Its were made of gold. (Its replaces “the tree’s leaves.”)

To many English speakers, the above two sentences will look and sound really weird.The word its is rarely used as a possessive pronoun, and this usage is often avoided in everyday writing and speech. Instead, the word its is used significantly more often as a possessive adjective.

Improper usage

Firstly, possessive pronouns can only be used where a noun or another pronoun can be used as well (as a subject or an object). Possessive pronouns are NOT modifiers, which means they are not used in place of adjectives, adverbs, or similar parts of speech. Of course, as we noted above, the word his is an exception to this rule.

✅ Correct: I have my dinner and you have yours. (Yours is used correctly as the object of a sentence.)
❌ Incorrect: This is my dinner and that is yours dinner. (Yours is used incorrectly as an adjective. This sentence should instead use the possessive adjective your.)

Secondly, possessive pronouns must agree with the nouns or noun phrases that they replace. A singular noun uses a singular pronoun and a plural noun uses a plural pronoun.

✅ Correct: Victor couldn’t remember which seat was his. (The pronoun his is referring to a seat that belongs to Victor. Victor is a singular noun so it needs the singular pronoun his.)
❌ Incorrect: I looked for my seat, but I couldn’t remember which seat was ours. (Based on the sentence, I am looking for a seat that belongs to me. The word me is singular so it would use the singular pronoun mine and not the plural pronoun ours.)

Keep in mind that the possessive pronoun yours can be either singular or plural, depending on how many people you is referring to.

✅ Correct: I found you, Lily! Here, this jacket is yours. (Both Lily and yours are singular.)

✅ Correct: Hello, my friends! Follow me and I’ll show you which room is yours. (Both friends and yours are plural.)

While the word theirs is often used as a plural possessive pronoun, it is correct to use it as a singular possessive pronoun, too. For example, we can use the word theirs as a singular to refer generally to a person without mentioning their gender:

 

  • The child knew exactly which lunchbox was theirs.

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Even if you have a strong grasp on English grammar, it doesn't hurt to revisit the many different types of adjectives!

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