Possessive Pronoun

Correct Uses of Possessive Pronouns

Possessive Pronoun is a form of personal pronounOpens in new window that indicates possession or ownership.

The words identified with emphasis in the following sentences indicate possessive pronouns:

  1. Gretchen discussed her business plan to the investors.
  2. I accepted their offer.
  3. This car is mine.
  4. Theirs has the best features.

If you study closely the sentences above, you will notice that the possessive pronouns in the sentences fall into two forms.

The ones in sentences 1 and 2 are followed by a noun:

Those in sentences 3 and 4 (mine, and theirs) are not followed by a noun; rather, they stand on their own in the sentence.

This is because possessive pronouns are made up of two forms:

Any of these words is used if the possessive pronoun immediately precedes the noun it refers to. In other words they are introduced with the nouns they refer to.

Each of these words is used when the possessive pronoun stands apart from the noun it modifies.

Important Hint!  

Strictly speaking, the form of possessive pronoun which include: my, his, her, our, and their are pronominal adjectivesOpens in new window rather than pronouns. We are dealing with them here, however, because they follow the same agreement rule that governs pronouns.

The following chart illustrates the disparity between these two forms, and also the right form to use:
Use these forms when pronoun precedes nounUse these forms when pronoun stands apart
  • my (That is my house)
  • mine (The house is mine)
  • your (your idea is brilliant)
  • yours (The brilliant idea is yours)
  • his (James brought his car)
  • his (The car he brought was his)
  • her (They visit her home)
  • hers (The home they visited was hers)
  • their (They came in their car)
  • >theirs (the trademark is theirs)
  • its (The dog hurt its tail)
  • its (Isn't that our pet's toy? I think it is its.)
  • our (Our dog is friendly)
  • ours (The friendly dog is ours)

Note that whose is the possessive form of who or whom.

For Example:
  • This is the man whose dog was stolen.
  • Whose car is this?

Unlike other pronouns, possessive pronouns cannot be used in places of nouns. They are used with nouns (for example, my car) to make identification. Hence, grammarians are right to consider them adjectives.

Important  

Note that it is incorrect to use any version of the possessive pronoun with an apostrophe (‘s) ending; yours, hers, theirs, etc are the correct forms, and NOT your’s, her's or their’s and so forth.

Using the Possessive Pronouns with —ing Verbs

Possessive Pronouns may be used before verbs ending in –ing that serves as nouns. The technical name for such verb forms is known as GerundOpens in new window.

Although, not all of such verbs serve as nounsOpens in new window. If the emphasis is on the activity, the verb serves as a noun and a possessive pronoun is required. But if the emphasis is on the person doing the activity, use an objective pronounOpens in new window.

Observe carefully the following sentences:

Activity
  • I don’t like your lying to a police officer.
    ( I don’t like lying to a police officer.)
Person
  • I heard you lying to the police officer.
    (I heard you as you told the lie.)
Activity
  • Residents are upset about their evacuating the area.
    (Residents are upset about the evacuation.)
Person
  • I don’t want them evacuating the area.
    (I don’t want the firefighters evacuating the area; I want them mitigating the hazard. The police can handle the evacuation.)

Possessive Pronoun versus Contractions

Do not confuse possessive pronouns with contractions.

Possessive pronounsContractions
itsit's (contraction of it is or it has)
theirthey're (contraction of they are)
theirsthere's (contraction of there is or there has)
youryou're (contraction of you are)
whosewho's (contraction of who is)

If you are unsure which word to use, try substituting the words from which the contraction is formed.

If the new sentence makes sense, you can use the contraction; if it doesn’t, you must use a possessive pronoun.

Observe carefully the following sentences:

Original
  • It’s not ideal to make that move.
Test version
  • it is not ideal to make that move.
  • (since it is makes sense, the contraction it’s is appropriate. The possessive pronoun its would be wrong.)
Original
  • You can’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Test version
  • You can’t put all you are eggs in one basket.
  • (The substitution doesn’t work, so the possessive pronoun your is required. The contraction you’re would be wrong.)