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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. You’ll get it by the end of this, once you know what are possessive pronouns. 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 yourself, 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.)

What is a pronoun? What is an antecedent? What is a possessive pronoun? 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?

This guide covers: 

  • What Is a Possessive Pronoun
  • What Isn’t a Possessive Pronoun?
  • How to Use Possessive Pronouns
  • Possessive Pronouns Worksheet

The beginning half of this guide will review a possessive pronoun definition and various examples of possessive pronouns. Then, this guide will further clarify what are possessive pronouns, what they are not, and explain how to properly use them. Finally, you’ll review a possessive pronouns worksheet to test your understanding of everything you’ve learned.

What Is a Possessive Pronoun?

One of the first things people are taught when learning English is nouns. Then come pronouns.

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. There are several different kinds of pronouns, but the ones that we will be talking about today are possessive pronouns

The question that follows is what are possessive pronouns? The definition of possessive pronoun has some key elements.

The first element of the possessive pronoun definition is that they are pronouns that help us show possession or ownership in a sentence.

Possessive pronouns are of two types:

In the independent form, also known simply as possessive pronouns, nouns must not appear alongside them. They can carry the sentence on their own and often appear at the end of the sentence. 

Examples of possessive pronouns

  • Mine
  • Ours
  • Yours
  • His
  • Hers
  • Its
  • Theirs 

Examples of possessive pronouns in sentences:

  • That book is mine.
  • Are these shoes his or hers?
  • I thought this car was ours, but it’s actually theirs.

Some of these words can also serve as adjectival modifiers alongside a noun, and are commonly called possessive adjectives.

Examples of possessive adjectives

  • My
  • Our
  • Your
  • His
  • Her
  • Its 
  • Their

Example sentences:

  • That is my book.
  • Our house has the blue roof.
  • Is this her picture?

Possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives can seem more similar than they are. The reason lies in the definition of possessive pronoun. While the question of what are possessive pronouns can simply be answered by saying that they are words that show ownership, the second key element of the definition of possessive pronoun tells us that possessive pronouns are used as the replacement of a noun in a sentence to avoid repetition.

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

Now that we have answered the question of what is a possessive pronoun, we can move on to the next question- what doesn’t constitute a possessive pronoun?

What Isn’t a Possessive Pronoun?

Though you now know the possessive pronoun definition, you might find it easier to answer the question of what is a possessive pronoun by ruling out the wrong answers. These questions 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 as it does not follow one of the key elements of the possessive pronoun definition – the possessive pronoun itself shows ownership.

Once you have understood what does not constitute a possessive pronoun, it is time to move on to the third key element of the possessive pronoun definition.

An essential point to remember about the definition of possessive pronoun is that every possessive pronoun contains the following:

  • Number: Singular (my/mine, his, her/hers, its, your/yours) 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 and can confidently answer the question of what is a possessive pronoun, you’re just about ready to start using them. But remember, safety first: 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 about what are possessive pronouns from a syntactical aspect, check out this useful 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 and 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 about 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.

Examples of possessive pronouns before nouns:

  • 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 a possessive pronoun and what 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! By now you know all about the possessive pronoun definition and the various uses of a possessive pronoun. You just need to nail down antecedent agreement, and then you’re ready to move forward to the possessive pronouns worksheet! “Antecedent” simply means the word to which you are referring.

Examples of possessive pronouns following the antecedent agreement:

  • Marla wrote in her notebook, and Tyler fell asleep on his.
  • Wendy and Andrew got married. The wedding photo you saw was theirs.

In the first sentence, Marla is the antecedent of her, and Tyler is the antecedent of his. In the second sentence, Wendy and Andrew are the antecedents of theirs.

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

More examples of possessive pronouns and the antecedent agreement:

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.

Easy, isn’t it? If you are still unsure about what are possessive pronouns and how to use them, try going back to the top and read through the definitions and examples again. Then move on to the possessive pronouns worksheet and see how much you remember!

Possessive Pronouns Worksheet

Now that you have learned what is a possessive pronoun, different elements of the definition of possessive pronoun, how to use possessive pronouns, and also how not to, it is time to apply your knowledge! This possessive pronouns worksheet will help you test how much you have learned and also give you an opportunity to think through the different requirements to make a correct sentence.

Hint: keep in mind the answer to the question of what are possessive pronouns, the antecedent agreement, and the definition of possessive pronoun

  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. In the following sentence, 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 to the possessive pronouns worksheet.

  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

 

Published March 6th, 2019. Updated May 29th, 2020.

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