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Master Possessive Pronouns and Improve Your Writing

Your third-grade teacher was right, you know. You need to learn the rules of grammar if you want to get ahead. She was wrong to call them rules, however.

Rules are strict, unyielding nags. They punish you for trivial things and want to control you.

Language should empower, not punish; it should serve as a tool.

Let’s transform this tool into your tool, and not just by adding a possessive pronoun. (That was a pun. You’ll get it by the end of this. Promise.)

If language is a tool, grammar is the blueprint. Can you wield a tool without proper training or a plan? Sure. That’s how thumbs get lost, though.

Consider this: your grades, your reputation, and the opportunities available to you all rely on your ability to express yourself. Your words are an extension of you, and every errant apostrophe or dangling modifier defines what others know about you. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what a dangling modifier is yet. Our Grammar Check has you covered.)

If your knowledge of grammar is shaky, don’t panic. You can master this, and we’ll share some of the tools we’ve built to help you along the way.

Ready?

What is a Possessive Pronoun?

What is a pronoun? It’s a word that stands in for one or more nouns. There are a few different types, so it might be helpful to quickly review their definitions and usage. Click site to review a short handout.

Next question: what are possessive pronouns? They’re the words we use to show ownership.

In their independent form, a noun must not appear alongside them: mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs.

  • That book is mine.

They can also serve as adjectival modifiers alongside a noun: my, our, your, his, her, its, their.

  • That is my book.

Your ear is likely trained to hear incorrect usage. If you find yourself stuck, try speaking your sentence out loud.

What Isn’t a Possessive Pronoun?

You might find it easier to answer a question by ruling out the wrong answers. These tricks will help you find the imposters:

  • Is there an apostrophe?
  • Does the word include self or selves?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, the word is not a possessive pronoun.

Another essential point to remember about the definition of possessive pronouns is that they all contain a:

  • Number: Singular (my/mine, his, her/hers, its, your/your) or Plural (our/ours, their/theirs)
  • Person: First Person (my/mine, our/ours), Second Person (your/yours), or Third Person (his, her/hers, its, their/theirs)
  • Gender: Masculine (his), Feminine (her, hers), Neuter (its)

When in doubt, verify usage with your style guide to make sure you’re using an accepted case in your writing. For example, MLA format discourages use of second person.

How to Use Possessive Pronouns

Now that you’ve brushed up on the possessive pronoun definition, you’re just about ready to start using them. Safety first, remember: before you start wielding this tool, take some time to read the user manual. Read through the usage guidelines below and, if you’re interested in learning more, check out this useful, handy site.

Before Gerunds

Remember gerunds? Don’t worry about it; nobody else does, either. A gerund is a verbal noun; that is, a verb that is used as a noun, which ends in -ing. Example:

  • Moping is his greatest talent.

An easy way to remember gerunds is to envision a sad fellow named Gerald, who is moping after being confused for present participle (a word formed from a verb but used as an adjective) again.

Examples of possessive pronouns before gerunds:

  • He gave his moping his full attention.
  • He didn’t appreciate our mocking.

Another trick is to replace the word with a noun. If the sentence maintains its structure, it’s a gerund.

  • He gave his parakeet his full attention.
  • He didn’t appreciate our parakeet.

Again, keep in mind the style guide you’re following in your writing. Our plagiarism checker is here to help you stay ahead of the curve. If you find text you need to cite, Citation Machine Plus can help you create citations in MLA, APA, and more styles.

Gendered Terms

While learning what is and isn’t a possessive pronoun, you surely noticed that her, hers, and his have an implied gender. Language is fluid, and over time it adapts to the speakers and shifts its goalposts. While there are still debates about the use of they/their in singular form, APA format does not support using gendered terms unless necessary, nor does it recommend replacing he, for example, with he or she. If rephrasing the sentence or replacing the gendered word changes the meaning of a phrase, using the plural they or their is acceptable.

Possessive Pronouns and Antecedent Agreement

You’re almost there! You just need to nail down antecedent agreement, and then you’re ready to go. Antecedent simply means the word to which you are referring.

  • Marla wrote in her notebook, and Tyler fell asleep on his.

In this sentence, Marla is the antecedent of her, and Tyler is the antecedent of his.

The number and gender of these parts of speech must match, so it’s important to get this right.

Incorrect:

  • The students have learned more than his peers.

His is singular, while the antecedent the students is plural.

Correct:

  • The students have done more than their peers.

In this example, the gender and number of their and the antecedent the students agree.

Tips for Antecedent Agreement:

A phrase after the antecedent doesn’t change the number of the antecedent:

  • One of the boys fell asleep in his class.

The plural word boys does not change the number of boys who fell asleep.

Two or more singular antecedents joined by and are considered plural:

Tyler and Marla did their homework.

Joining Tyler and Marla (both singular) with and creates a plural antecedent.

Two or more singular antecedents joined by or/nor or either/neither:

  • Neither of the girls could find her pen.

The plural word girls does not change the singularity of the word neither.

When to Break the Rules

When the meaning of the antecedent is obviously plural, treat it as plural.

Incorrect:

Nobody did the homework because he was busy.

Nobody is the antecedent and, though singular, has a meaning that is plainly plural. Treating it as singular creates a statement that doesn’t agree with the meaning.

Correct:

  • Nobody did the homework because they were busy.

Possessive Pronouns Worksheet

Are you looking for some more possessive pronouns practice? Try your hand at these problems:

  1. In the following sentence, what can’t she handle? Him, or his moping?:
    • She can’t handle his moping all day.
  2. In the following sentence, what can’t she handle? Him, or his moping?:
    • She can’t handle him moping all day.
  3. Select the correct pronoun:
    • I offered to buy Tamika dinner after she threw hers/it at Tyler.
  4. Select the correct pronoun:
    • Judy or Carol will bring their/her charger to class.
  5. Select the correct pronoun:
    • Neither will lend her/their charger to you, though.
  6. Rewrite as possessive:
    • The house that belongs to Jessica is haunted.
  7. Rewrite with the independent form:
    • Those ghosts belong to Jessica.
  8. Rewrite in second person:
    • My dog is afraid of ghosts.
  9. Is Jessica objecting to the taunting, or specifically the taunting of ghosts?:
    • Jessica objected to our taunting the ghosts.
  10. Are Tyler’s parents expressing displeasure at Tyler, or his sleeping?:
    • Tyler’s parents weren’t pleased with his sleeping in class.

Scroll for answers, and good luck!

  1. His moping
  2. Him
  3. Hers
  4. Her
  5. Her
  6. Her house is haunted.
  7. Those ghosts are hers.
  8. Your dog is afraid of ghosts.
  9. Taunting of ghosts
  10. His sleeping