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Possessive pronouns

What is a possessive pronoun?

Sounds a simple enough question, doesn’t it? We use them to refer to possession, as the word suggests, or (more vaguely) a sense of belonging. However, it seems that there is more than a little confusion about what a possessive pronoun is.

In theory, it is a pronoun version of the possessive noun. Instead of having to explain in longhand that That is not Caroline’s car; Caroline’s car is red, we are able to substitute Caroline’s car the second time with hers. So far, so simple.

However, what if we decide to say her car is red instead? Some would claim that her is also a possessive pronoun, but the noun that we are discussing is the car, and the car is still there. How is it a pronoun if the noun is still there? Some would describe her as a possessive adjective, as it describes the car rather than replacing it, or a possessive determiner. Other more conciliatory souls might call it an adjectival possessive pronoun, but that, in my most humble opinion, borders on appeasement. Let’s keep our pronouns and our adjectives apart, lest all manner of chaos is unleashed on the English language.

Therefore, for the sake of clarity, I would suggest that we stick to mine, yours, his, hers, ours, yours, theirs as our list of possessive pronouns, pausing only momentarily why we never hear or read its as a possessive pronoun.

Whose is this Chelsea bun? It’s mine. – All well and good.

I’ve shared out the chocolate buttons with the cat. These ones are mine, and those are its. – Nope!

Perhaps this is because the idea of an inanimate it possessing anything doesn’t quite compute with our English-speaking brains.

However, our brains seem quite happy with using other nouns, noun phrases or even indefinite pronouns to make up our possessive pronouns. All it takes if some diligent application of our friends the apostrophe and the s.

Trump’s backside was in the driver’s seat; Hillary’s wasn’t.

This winning lottery ticket has got to be somebody’s, hasn’t it?

Whose ball is this? The boy in the yellow jumper’s.

The last example is arguably a little inelegant, but it is certainly an example of something used on an everyday basis.

Examples of possessive pronouns

Pronounpossessive determinerpossessive pronoun
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