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What is the Difference Between a Possessive Pronoun and a Possessive Adjective?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The difference between a possessive pronoun and a possessive adjective is best understood when the definitions of each are clear. A pronoun is a term used in place of a noun: she, you, they, we, and it. An adjective is used to modify or describe a noun: Ugly dog, beautiful tree, tasty soup.

People may get confused with the distinctions between a possessive pronoun and a possessive adjective because the words used as possessive pronouns are often slight modifications of the words used for possessive adjectives. The main distinction is that the possessive pronoun is used in place of a noun, while the possessive adjective will always modify a noun.

Consider the following example:

    The car is Sally’s.

If we want to substitute in a possessive pronoun to replace the noun Sally’s, we’d merely write:

    The car is hers.

This is clearly a possessive pronoun since we have taken out the possessive noun Sally’s and replaced it with hers.

When you’re trying to determine the difference between a possessive pronoun and a possessive adjective, a further example helps. If we want to use a possessive adjective, we might write:

    That is her car.

Suddenly, instead of using a pronoun, we have used her to modify and further describe the noun car, Her is an adjective in this case, indicating possession.

It can help you understand differences between a possessive pronoun and a possessive adjective when you see a list of those most commonly used. Simple possessive pronouns include: mine, his, hers, ours, theirs, your. Simple possessive adjectives include: my, his, her, your, our, their. The terms its and his can stand either as possessive pronouns or possessive adjectives, but most words undergo a slight change. In general, with the exception of his, its, my, mine most possessive adjectives end in an s.

For extra practice, indicate in the next ten sentences whether the italicized words are possessive pronouns or possessive adjectives. (Answers are below, but don’t cheat!)

    1. My mother went to the store.
    2. I can’t find her keys.
    3. I think that dog is yours.
    4. The cat chased its tail.
    5. That opinion is theirs not ours.
    6. Can you help our sister move?
    7. That coat is definitely his.
    8. Your haircut looks great.
    9. I believe yours is in the back.
    10. That cookie is mine.
Answers: 1,2,4,6,8 are possessive adjectives. 3,5,7,9,10 are possessive pronouns.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon318982 — On Feb 10, 2013

But replacing a possessive adjective with a normal adjective does not make a normal sentence but replacing a possessive pronoun with an adjective does. How does this make sense?

By anon286080 — On Aug 19, 2012

I don't understand sentence No. 4. Can someone help me?

By anon255938 — On Mar 19, 2012

How about "its," Catapult?

By anon228644 — On Nov 09, 2011

My question is that I seem to find more and more examples of texts referring to what I learned are possessive adjectives ( my your, her..etc.) being referred to as possessive pronouns. They coexist in the category of possessive pronouns with those I always assumed to be such, namely mine, yours, hers, etc. Are they being redefined as such? Has anyone else noticed this trend?

By anon228642 — On Nov 09, 2011

@catapult: Maybe you should reread your (poss.adj.) post. After reading yours (poss. pron.), I have to say your "simple" lesson is not so simple.

The example you use compares "her" the personal pronoun used in the objective case because it follows "with". Your other example uses the possessive pronoun "hers". You seem to mix them up and claim the first is a pronoun (it is but of the personal variety not possessive) and the latter is not a pronoun - which it is.

By SilentBlue — On Nov 22, 2010

The disparity in pronunciations of certain pronouns began in the 13th century. Before that, there was no distinction between the word for "my" and "mine." Both were pronounced "mine," much like they both still are in German today. They were likely separated due to ease of pronunciation. "Mine dog" is more difficult to say than "my dog."

By ShadowGenius — On Nov 22, 2010

@Catapult

I believe you could say "I live with hers," but this would not be referring to the person, but to something she owns, like "her dog." It is interesting to note that you can use a possessive pronoun without the noun to which it refers in a sentence. In such a case, it is necessary to look at the broader context to determine what exactly the "hers" in the sentence refers to.

By Catapult — On Nov 06, 2010

A simple adjectives and pronouns lesson is that if you can use a word to refer to a person, it is a pronoun; if you can't, it's an adjective. For example, I can talk about my roommate and say "I live with her," but I cannot say "I live with hers." Her can be a person, hers cannot.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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