Grammar Rules

Possessive Pronouns

What are Possessive Pronouns?

Possessive pronouns are words used to indicate that something belongs to someone or has a direct relationship with someone else. They are often used in speech and writing to avoid repetition. Consider this example:
  • I had dinner with Jane and Jane’s brother, Michael.
To avoid repeating the name Jane in the sentence, we use the possessive pronoun her to make the sentence neater and less repetitive:
  • I had dinner with Jane and her brother, Michael.

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Possessive Pronouns Examples

Here are some examples of dependent possessive pronouns in sentences:
  • Does this key open my door or your door?
  • I will bring my favorite beer to the party.
  • She could not believe her
  • His shoes were old and worn.
  • They promised to do their
  • Amazon sent an email to its
Here are some examples of independent possessive pronouns in sentences:
  • Who owns this bike? Is it yours?
  • That’s ours. Please don’t touch it.
  • The land west of the field is theirs.
  • This money is all mine.
I can see theirs, but I can’t see his.

Possessive Pronouns Rules:

There are two groups of possessive pronouns:

Dependent Possessive Pronouns

My, your, his, her, its, our, your (pl) and their are the dependent possessive pronouns. Sometimes called possessive adjectives, they are used to indicate ownership or a relationship. For example:
  • This is my
  • Is this man your husband?
  • Welcome to our
  • The dog chased its
The rule of dependent possessive pronouns is that they are used before a noun. You can think of them this way: they are dependent on the noun that comes after them. The possessive pronouns are mostly used to show ownership between a person and the noun that follows. However, there are some instances when we don’t exactly own the thing in question – people, countries, jobs etc. – but in these cases the possessive pronoun is used to show ownership in the sense of a direct relationship:
  • I love my
  • Is Jamaica your country of birth?
  • Those are her
Sometimes an adjective can come between the possessive pronoun and noun, but only if it is acting as a modifier for that noun:
  • I lost my favourite pencil.
  • Did you see her blue dress?
We sat in our designated seats.  

Independent Possessive Pronouns

Mine, ours, yours, his, hers and theirs are the independent possessive pronouns. They are not immediately followed by a noun. You can think of them this way: they are independent because they don’t need a noun after them. For example:
  • The car parked outside is mine.
  • If the candy bar isn’t yours, it must belong to someone else.
  • This cake is
  • It is mine.
An independent possessive pronoun will normally come at the end of the sentence or clause. While it should not be followed by a noun, it does need auxiliary information before it appears to show the reader what the possessive pronoun is indicating ownership of – the cake, candy bar, car etc. For example, if we simply say it is mine, we won’t know what it is. We will only know whose it is. For us to know what it is, we need information before the possessive pronoun appears.

Common Mistakes

It can be quite easy to mix up independent and dependent possessive pronouns. It means that we can make incorrect sentences like this:
  • This is mine
We know this is incorrect as a noun (house) never follows at independent possessive pronoun. The correct sentence would be:
  • This my
Generally, dependent possessive pronouns are shorter than their independent possessive pronoun counterparts:
Dependent possessive pronouns Independent possessive pronouns
My Mine
Your (sing) Yours
His, Her His, Hers
Its Its*
Your (plural) Yours
Our Ours
Their Theirs
*Its is very rarely used as an independent possessive pronoun. An example can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, but it is effectively never used in modern English. However, one of the most common mistakes made in everyday English is the mixing up of the possessive pronoun its with the contraction it’s (the shortened form of it is). The golden rule to remember is that we never use apostrophes with possessive pronouns.
  • The boat had a red stripe on its Correct.
  • The boat had a red stripe on it’s Incorrect.
  • A horse swished its tail happily in the field.
A horse swished it’s tail happily in the field. Incorrect.  

Providing Clarity

Possessive pronouns are designed to provide clarity on ownership by making sentences less repetitious and more concise. This will make your speech and writing easier to understand. Consider this example of a sentence that does not use possessive pronouns.
  • That is Jack’s house. Jack’s neighbour, Bob, lives next door. In the park across the road from Jack’s and Bob’s houses, Jack’s and Bob’s wives are chatting.
Look how we can provide clarity with the use of possessive pronouns. That is Jack’s house. His neighbour, Bob, lives next door. In the park across the road from their houses, their wives are chatting.    

Simplify Your Sentence

Above all, the objective of using possessive pronouns is to simplify your sentence. This will provide clarity and even give your speech and writing a sense of style. Remember these three golden rules to use possessive pronouns correctly:
  • Never use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns.
  • A dependent possessive pronoun is followed by a noun or a noun with an adjective modifier (it needs one because it is dependent).
An independent possessive pronoun is not followed by a noun (it doesn’t need one because it is independent), and it will usually be at the end of a sentence or clause.