Understanding Possessive Nouns and Adjectives

A dog with a beloved ball
That's His Ball. Richard Theis/EyeEm/Getty Images

The formation of possessive nouns and possessive adjectives is sometimes confusing to students. The reason for this is that many languages commonly use "of" for this construction.

  • The color of his shirt (Not: shirt's color)
  • The ball of his dog (Not: his dog's ball)

In everyday English, however, we generally use possessive nouns and possessive adjectives rather than this "of" form.

Possessive Adjectives

Possessive adjectives are used instead of possessive nouns when the reference is understood. For example:

  • Tom is a dog lover. He takes his dog Spike everywhere!

In this case, it is clear that "his" refers to Tom because of the context. Possessive adjectives are always placed in front of the noun they modify. Here is a list of possessive adjectives with examples:

  • That's my dog in the picture. (I - my dog)
  • Does your cat like tuna? (You - your cat)
  • He left his book in the car. (He - his book)
  • That's her car over there. (She - her car)
  • Its color is purple! (It - its color)
  • Our dog is like a member of the family. (We - our dog)
  • Your house isn't far, is it? (You - your house)
  • Their farm produces pumpkins. (They - their farm​)

Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns also modify other nouns to indicate possession.

  • Peter's motorcycle
  • The building's structure

Form the possessive pronoun by placing an apostrophe (') after the noun + "s."

  • Peter > Peter's motorcycle
  • building > building's structure

When nouns end in "s" it can be difficult to know where to place the "s." For nouns ending in "s," or to use the possessive with regular plurals, place the apostrophe directly after the "s." Do not add another "s."

  • Parents > parents' concern for their children
  • Computers > computers' manufacturer

Notice that this construction can change the meaning from singular to plural.

  • The cat's favorite food is tuna. (one cat)
  • The cats' favorite food is tuna. (more than one cat)

Possessive Pronouns

Use possessive pronouns to indicate possession when no noun is used. This is the case when the object of possession is understood from the context.

  • Is that your book? Yes, it's mine. = It's my book.
  • Is this your pen? No, it's hers. = It's her pen.

In both cases, the possessive pronoun can be substituted for the possessive adjective because the object of possession is understood from the context.

Here is a list of possessive pronouns with example sentences:

  • Is this your car? - No, that one over there is mine. (I - mine)
  • Whose lunch is this? - It's yours. (You - yours)
  • Whose house is it? - It's his. (He - his)
  • Do you know who this belongs to? - It's hers. (She - hers)
  • This isn't her car. It's ours. (We - ours)
  • Whose classroom is this? - It's theirs. (They - theirs)

Possessive Question Word Whose

The question word "whose" is used to ask to whom something belongs. "To whom" or the more informal "Who does X belong to" is used with the verb belong to ask the same question. You can answer these questions using possessive adjectives and nouns:

  • Whose car is this? - It's her car.
  • Whose house is that? - It's Janet's house.
  • Who does that hat belong to? - It's Peter's hat.

Finally, possessive nouns can also be used in the same manner as possessive pronouns.

  • Whose picture is this? - It's yours.
  • Who do those books belong to? - They're theirs.
  • To whom do these magazines belong? - They're his.

Possessive Adjectives and Nouns Quiz

Provide the correct possessive adjective, possessive noun, or possessive pronoun using the clues provided in parentheses.

1. (Olivia's) _______ mother comes from the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea.
2. (who) ______ dog is that? It seems to be lost.
3. (Peter) ______ children go to private universities. That must cost a lot!
4. Who does that computer belong to? It's (I) _____.
5. (we) _______ cats like to go outside during the day.
6. (Alan) ______ boss comes to work at six o'clock every day.
7. (four students) ______ questions will be answered at the end of the lesson.
8. Do you know whose jacket that is? It's (you) ______.
9. He gave the book to ______ (he) friend.
Understanding Possessive Nouns and Adjectives
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Understanding Possessive Nouns and Adjectives
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