Usage of Possessive Determiners: Rules and Examples

Possessive determiners are determiners that are used to show ownership or possession. They come before nouns and are used to indicate who or what something belongs to. In this post, we will discuss the usage rules of possessive determiners, as well as provide examples of how they are used in sentences. You will learn everything you need to know about these determiners and how to use them correctly.

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What are possessive determiners?

Possessive determiners are words that show ownership or possession of something. They help us indicate who something belongs to. Common possessive determiners in English include words like “my,” “your,” “his,” “her,” “its,” “our,” and “their.” For example:

  • My book (the book belongs to me)
  • Your cat (the cat belongs to you)
  • His car (the car belongs to him)
  • Her house (the house belongs to her)
  • Its tail (the tail belongs to it)
  • Our picnic (the picnic belongs to us)
  • Their dog (the dog belongs to them)

What are determiners?

Determiners are words that come before nouns to provide information about them. They help specify or clarify which particular noun we are talking about. Determiners often indicate things like quantity, ownership, and whether the noun is specific or general. Common determiners include words like “a,” “an,” “the,” “my,” “your,” “some,” “many,” and “this.”

What is the usage of possessive determiners in English?

Possessive determiners in English are used to indicate ownership or possession. They help clarify who owns or possesses a particular noun in a sentence. Here are the primary usages of possessive determiners:

1. Ownership: Possessive determiners show that something belongs to a specific person or thing.

  • My cat is very playful. (The cat belongs to the speaker.)
  • Is this your pen? (The pen belongs to the person being spoken to.)

2. Relationship: They can also be used to describe relationships between people and objects.

  • His mother is a doctor. (The mother of the person referred to as “his.”)
  • Our teacher is very kind. (The teacher of the speaker and others in their group.)

3. Belonging: Possessive determiners can indicate that something is associated with a particular group or entity.

  • Their company is doing well. (The company belonging to the group they represent.)
  • Her team won the championship. (The team she is a part of.)

4. Animals and Inanimate Objects: They are also used with animals and sometimes inanimate objects when we want to attribute qualities to them as if they have ownership.

  • The dog wagged its tail. (Referring to the tail of a specific dog.)
  • The car lost its way. (Referring to the car as if it made a decision.)

Usage of “My” in English:

1. Ownership:

Rule: “My” is used to show that something belongs to the speaker or is in the possession of the speaker.

Example: This is my house. (The house belongs to the speaker.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “My” is also used to indicate relationships between the speaker and other people or objects.

Example: My sister is coming to visit. (The sister of the speaker.)

3. Belonging to a Group:

Rule: “My” can signify that something is associated with a particular group or entity to which the speaker belongs.

Example: We won my team’s soccer match. (The team the speaker is a part of.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular Nouns:

“My” is used with singular nouns, whether they are masculine, feminine, or neuter.

Example:

  • My book (singular masculine noun)
  • My cat (singular feminine noun)
  • My car (singular neuter noun)

2. Plural Nouns:

“My” is not used with plural nouns; instead, “our” is used to indicate possession when referring to something belonging to a group the speaker is a part of.

Example: These are our books. (Books belonging to the speaker and others.)

3. Inanimate Objects and Animals:

“My” can be used with inanimate objects and animals when indicating a sense of ownership or close association.

Example: My computer is very fast. (The computer is associated closely with the speaker.)

Note: “my” is always used before the noun it modifies and must agree in number and gender. “My” remains the same for all singular nouns, regardless of gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter).

Usage of “Your” in English:

1. Ownership or Possession:

Rule: “Your” is used to indicate that something belongs to the person or people you are addressing, or it is in their possession.

Example: Is this your phone? (The phone belongs to the person being spoken to.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “Your” can also be used to indicate relationships between the person or people you are addressing and other people or objects.

Example: I met your brother yesterday. (The brother of the person being spoken to.)

3. Belonging to a Group:

Rule: “Your” can signify that something is associated with a particular group or entity to which the person or people you are addressing belong.

Example: Did you enjoy your team’s victory? (The team the person is a part of.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular and Plural Nouns:

“Your” is used with both singular and plural nouns, regardless of gender.

Examples:

  • Your book (singular noun)
  • Your books (plural noun)

2. Inanimate Objects and Animals:

“Your” can be used with inanimate objects and animals when indicating ownership or close association by the person or people you are addressing.

Example: I like your car. (The car is associated closely with the person being spoken to.)

Usage of “His” in English:

1. Ownership or Possession:

Rule: “His” is used to indicate that something belongs to a specific male person or entity.

Example: That is his car. (The car belongs to the male person being referred to.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “His” can also be used to indicate relationships between the male person being referred to and other people or objects.

Example: I met his father yesterday. (The father of the male person being referred to.)

3. Belonging to a Group:

Rule: “His” can signify that something is associated with a particular group or entity to which the male person being referred to belongs.

Example: How did his team perform in the match? (The team the male person is a part of.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular Nouns:

“His” is used with singular nouns, whether the noun is masculine or neuter in gender.

Examples:

  • His book (singular masculine noun)
  • His dog (singular neuter noun)

2. Plural Nouns:

“His” is not used with plural nouns; instead, “their” is used to indicate possession when referring to something belonging to a group the male person is a part of.

3. Inanimate Objects and Animals:

“His” can be used with inanimate objects and animals when indicating ownership or close association by the male person being referred to.

Example: I like his house. (The house is associated closely with the male person being referred to.)

Usage of “Her” in English:

1. Ownership or Possession:

Rule: “Her” is used to indicate that something belongs to a specific female person or entity.

Example: That is her book. (The book belongs to the female person being referred to.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “Her” can also be used to indicate relationships between the female person being referred to and other people or objects.

Example: I met her sister yesterday. (The sister of the female person being referred to.)

3. Belonging to a Group:

Rule: “Her” can signify that something is associated with a particular group or entity to which the female person being referred to belongs.

Example: How did her team perform in the match? (The team the female person is a part of.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular Nouns:

“Her” is used with singular nouns, whether the noun is feminine or neuter in gender.

Examples:

  • Her cat (singular feminine noun)
  • Her car (singular neuter noun)

2. Plural Nouns:

“Her” is not used with plural nouns; instead, “their” is used to indicate possession when referring to something belonging to a group the female person is a part of.

3. Inanimate Objects and Animals:

“Her” can be used with inanimate objects and animals when indicating ownership or close association by the female person being referred to.

Example: I like her house. (The house is associated closely with the female person being referred to.)

Usage of “Its” in English:

1. Ownership or Possession:

Rule: “Its” is used to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with a non-human entity, such as an animal, object, or concept.

Example: The cat chased its tail. (The tail belongs to the cat.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “Its” can be used to indicate relationships between non-human entities or objects.

Example: The company increased its profits. (The profits are associated with the company.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular Nouns:

“Its” is used with singular nouns, primarily for non-human entities.

Examples:

  • The tree lost its leaves. (Leaves of the tree)
  • The computer shut down due to its overheating. (Overheating of the computer)

2. Plural Nouns:

“Its” is not used with plural nouns. Instead, “their” is used to indicate possession when referring to something belonging to non-human entities in the plural form.

3. Inanimate Objects:

“Its” is commonly used with inanimate objects when referring to their inherent characteristics or attributes.

Example: The car’s engine has lost its power. (Power of the engine)

4. Animals and Concepts:

“Its” is often used when referring to animals and abstract concepts.

Examples:

The elephant raised its trunk. (Trunk of the elephant)

The idea lost its appeal. (Appeal of the idea)

5. Gender-Neutral Pronoun:

“Its” can sometimes be used as a gender-neutral pronoun when referring to an entity or object of unknown gender.

Example: The mystery novel had its readers intrigued. (Readers of unknown gender)

6. Note on “It’s” vs. “Its”:

Be careful not to confuse “its” (the possessive determiner) with “it’s” (a contraction of “it is” or “it has”). They have different meanings and usages.

Usage of “Our” in English:

1. Ownership or Possession:

Rule: “Our” is used to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with a group of people, including the speaker.

Example: This is our house. (The house belongs to the group of people, which includes the speaker.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “Our” can also be used to indicate relationships between the group of people and other people or objects.

Example: We met our neighbors yesterday. (The neighbors of the group of people, which includes the speaker.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular Nouns:

“Our” is used with singular nouns when referring to something that belongs to or is associated with a group of people.

Examples:

  • This is our leader. (The leader belongs to the group.)
  • Our class is in Room 101. (The class belongs to the students in the group.)

2. Plural Nouns:

“Our” can also be used with plural nouns to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with a group of people.

Example: These are our friends. (The friends belong to the group of people.)

3. Inanimate Objects and Concepts:

“Our” can be used with inanimate objects or concepts when referring to something that is collectively shared by a group of people.

Example: This is our responsibility. (The responsibility is collectively shared by the group.)

Usage of “Their” in English:

1. Ownership or Possession:

Rule: “Their” is used to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with a group of people, animals, or things.

Example: This is their house. (The house belongs to the group of people, animals, or things.)

2. Relationships:

Rule: “Their” can also be used to indicate relationships between the group and other people or objects.

Example: We met their parents yesterday. (The parents of the group, which may include the speaker.)

Special Cases and Exceptions:

1. Singular Nouns:

“Their” is used with singular nouns when referring to something that belongs to or is associated with a group of people, animals, or things.

Examples:

  • This is their leader. (The leader belongs to the group.)
  • Their class is in Room 101. (The class belongs to the students in the group.)

2. Plural Nouns:

“Their” is commonly used with plural nouns to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with the group.

Example: These are their friends. (The friends belong to a group of people, animals, or things.)

3. Inanimate Objects and Concepts:

“Their” can be used with inanimate objects or concepts when referring to something that is collectively shared by the group.

Example: This is their responsibility. (The responsibility is collectively shared by the group.)

4. Mixed Gender Groups:

“Their” can be used for groups of people with mixed genders or when the gender of the group is unspecified.

Example: Their team won the championship. (The gender of the team members is not specified.)

5. Note on “Their” vs. “There”:

Be careful not to confuse “their” (the possessive determiner) with “there” (an adverb indicating location). They are different words with distinct meanings and functions.

Practice Exercises

Here are some practice exercises to help you better understand the usage of possessive determiners in English. For each sentence, choose the correct possessive determiner (my, your, his, her, its, our, their) to complete the sentence correctly.

  1. This is ___ dog. (The dog belongs to the speaker.)
  2. She found ___ wallet on the bus. (The wallet belongs to her.)
  3. Our team won ___ game yesterday. (The game belongs to the speaker and their team.)
  4. Is this ___ pen? (The pen belongs to the person you’re speaking to.)
  5. The students are doing ___ best to pass the exam. (The students are part of a group that includes the speaker.)
  6. He’s visiting ___ grandmother this weekend. (The grandmother of the person being referred to.)
  7. The cat is chasing ___ tail. (The tail belongs to the cat.)
  8. Those are ___ friends from work. (The friends belong to the group of people, including the speaker.)
  9. This is ___ responsibility to complete the project on time. (The responsibility is collectively shared by a group.)
  10. I’m meeting ___ sister for lunch today. (The sister of the speaker.)

Answers:

  1. my
  2. her
  3. our
  4. your
  5. their
  6. his
  7. its
  8. their
  9. our
  10. my

FAQs on the Usage of Possessive Determiners

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to the usage rules of possessive determiners to help address additional doubts:

Can I use “its” to refer to a person’s possession?

No, “its” is primarily used for non-human entities, animals, and objects. To indicate possession for a person, you would use “his” or “her” depending on the person’s gender.

When should I use “their” for a singular noun?

You can use “their” with a singular noun when it refers to a group or entity that includes multiple people or things. For example, “The team lost their match.”

Are there any possessive determiners specific to objects or things?

Yes, “its” is used as a possessive determiner for objects, things, or non-human entities. For example, “The car lost its keys.”

Can I use “my” or “your” for plural nouns?

No, “my” and “your” are singular possessive determiners. For plural nouns, you should use “our” for your group or “their” for another group’s possession.

What’s the difference between “their” and “there”?

“Their” is a possessive determiner indicating possession or association. “There” is an adverb indicating a location or position. Ensure you use the correct word in context.

How do I choose between “his” and “her” when referring to a person?

Use “his” when referring to a male person’s possession and “her” when referring to a female person’s possession. For example, “His car” and “Her book.”

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Additional Resources & References:

  1. Possessive Determiners – Definition, List, Examples, and Exercises – Teaching Banyan
  2. Possessive Determiners – Magnet Brains
  3. What are Possessive Determiners in English?  Lingoda
  4. Possessive determiners: explanation, examples – Lingbase
  5. Possessive Determiners and Possessive Pronouns – Single Step English
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