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English grammar

Possessive adjectives, also known as possessive determiners,[1] are a part of speech that modifies a noun by attributing possession (or other sense of belonging) to someone or something. In English, the words my, your and her are examples.

Possessive adjectives/determiners can eliminate repetition in a sentence by replacing a determiner phrase (or in other analyses, a noun phrase). They allow us, for example, to say the girl took off her glasses instead of the girl took off the girl's glasses.

Contents

Comparison with determiners and adjectives

Possessive determiners/adjectives have features of both determiners and adjectives:

  • Possessive determiners always imply the article the. For example, my car always means the car that belongs to me. Therefore, possessive determiners function as a determiner and as such are not used with most other determiners including articles such as the or demonstratives such as that, which are usually required in English and other European languages before a noun. For example, My hat is blue and that hat is green is grammatically correct, but The my hat is blue and hat is green is not. Like articles, possessive determiners may be used with cardinal numbers, as in My three children are married or Three of my children are married, or indefinite quantifiers, as in Some of my children are married.
  • Like some demonstratives, e.g. this ("close at hand") and that ("further away from me"), possessive determiners often imply additional information. For example, I lost my earring in the elevator usually means "I lost one of the earrings which was attached to one of my ears while I was in the elevator", while I'll look in my purse usually means "I'll look in the purse that I am carrying or that I brought with me here today".
  • Like other adjectives, possessive adjectives may be modified with an adverb, though this is uncommon. The adverbs more or less (comparative) may sometimes appear, for example in This is more my team than your team. However, the superlative form (usually most or -est in English) is usually not used, for example This is most my team is not encountered.

Nomenclature

While some classify the words my, your etc. as possessive adjectives,[2] others, due to the differences noted above, do not consider them adjectives – at least, not in English – and prefer possessive determiners. In some other languages the equivalent parts of speech may behave more like true adjectives, however.

The words my, your etc. are sometimes classified, along with mine, yours etc., as possessive pronouns[3][4] or genitive pronouns, since they are the possessive (or genitive) forms of the ordinary personal pronouns I, you etc. However, unlike most other pronouns, they do not behave grammatically as standalone nouns, but instead qualify another noun – as in my book (contrasted with that's mine, for example, where mine substitutes for a complete noun phrase such as my book). For this reason, other authors restrict the term "possessive pronoun" to the group of words mine, yours etc. that substitute directly for a noun or noun phrase.[5][6]

Some authors who classify both sets of words as "possessive pronouns" or "genitive pronouns" apply the terms dependent/independent[7] or weak/strong[8] to refer, respectively, to my, your etc. and mine, yours etc. For example, under this scheme, my might be termed a dependent possessive pronoun and mine an independent possessive pronoun.

Possessive adjectives in other languages

Though in English the possessive adjectives indicate definiteness, in other languages the definiteness needs to be added separately for grammatical correctness. In Norwegian the phrase "my book" would be boka mi[9], where boka is the definite form of the feminine noun bok (book), and mi (my) is the possessive pronoun following feminine singular nouns.

In most Romance languages (such as Spanish, French, and Italian) the gender of the possessive adjective agrees with the thing(s) owned, not with the owner. French, for example, uses son for masculine nouns and also for feminine noun phrases starting with a vowel, sa elsewhere; compare Il a perdu son chapeau ("He lost his hat") with Elle a perdu son chapeau ("She lost her hat"). In this respect the possessive adjectives in these languages resemble ordinary adjectives.

In Italian, constructions such as il tuo libro nero ("the your black book", rendered in English as "your black book") and quel tuo libro nero ("that your black book", rendered in English as "that black book of yours") are grammatically correct. In Italian, the possessive adjectives behave in almost every respect like ordinary adjectives.

Some Germanic languages, such as English and Dutch, use different pronouns depending on the owner. English has the (uninflected) words his and her; Dutch uses the (uninflected) zijn and haar.

Other Germanic languages, such as German and several Dutch dialects including Limburgish and Brabantian, have features of both systems. German has sein (with inflected forms like seine) for masculine and ihr (with inflected forms like ihre) for feminine possessors; in German, the "hat" sentences above would be Er hat seinen Hut verloren and Sie hat ihren Hut verloren respectively. Brabantian inflects zijn (his) and haar (her) according to the grammatical gender and number of the thing(s) owned.

Some languages have no distinctive possessive adjectives, and express possession by declining personal pronouns in the genitive or possessive case, or by using possessive suffixes. In Japanese, for example, boku no (a word for I coupled with the genitive particle no), is used for my or mine.

Some languages use the same word for both the possessive adjective and the matching possessive pronoun. For example, in Finnish (informal) meiän can mean either our or ours.

Semantics

For possessive adjectives as elsewhere, the genitive does not always indicate strict possession, but rather a general sense of belonging or close identification with. Consider the following examples:

  • my mother or my people
Here, a person does not own his or her mother, but rather has a close relationship with her. The same applies to my people, which means people I am closely associated with or people I identify with.
  • his train (as in "If Bob doesn't get to the station in ten minutes he's going to miss his train")
Here, Bob most likely does not own the train and instead his train means the train Bob plans to travel on.
  • my CD (as in "The kids are enjoying my CD")
my CD could refer to a CD that I own, a CD owned by someone else but with music that I recorded as an artist, a CD that I have just given to someone here as a gift, or one with some other relation to me that would be identifiable in the context.

Forms

Possessive adjectives commonly have similar forms to personal pronouns. In addition, they have corresponding possessive pronouns, which are also phonetically similar. The following chart shows the English, German,[10] and French personal pronouns, possessive adjectives, and possessive pronouns (masculine nominative singular only).

Possessor English German French
Pers.
pron.
(obj)
Poss.
adj.
Poss.
pron.
Pers.
pron.
(gen)
Poss.
adj.
Poss.
pron.
Pers.
pron.
(dat)
Poss.
adj.
Poss.
pron.
Singular 1st me my mine meiner mein meiner me mon le mien
2nd you your yours deiner dein deiner te ton le tien
3rd masc. him his his seiner sein seiner lui son le sien
fem. her her hers ihrer ihr ihrer
neut. it its (its) seiner sein seiner  
Plural 1st us our ours unser unser unserer nous notre le nôtre
2nd you your yours euer euer eurer vous votre le vôtre
3rd them their theirs ihrer ihr ihrer leur leur le leur

Notes

  1. ^ Biber et al. (1999), pp. 270–72
  2. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/my
  3. ^ Jesperson (1949), pp. 399–405
  4. ^ Biber et al. 1999, pp. 340–42
  5. ^ All about grammar, p. 69, Rosemary Allen, 2007
  6. ^ Easy French step-by-step, p. 210, Myrna Bell Rochester, McGraw Hill Professional, 2008
  7. ^ Payne and Huddleston 2002, p. 426
  8. ^ Quirk et al. (1985) pp. 361–62
  9. ^ In Norwegian bokmål written form, the phrase could alternatively be written as min bok due to bokmål's Danish heritage.
  10. ^ See [http://www.canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/InflectionRules/FRegeln-P/Pron-Poss1.html?MenuId=Word423#Anchor-Formen-11481 canoonet: Possessivpronomen und Possessivartikel]

References

  • Biber, Douglas, et al. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken English. Harlow, Essex: Longman. ISBN 0-582-23725-4.
  • Jespersen, Otto. (1949) A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles. Part 2 (Syntax, vol. 1). Copenhagen: Munksgaard; London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • Payne, John, and Rodney Huddleston. (2002) "Nouns and Noun Phrases." Chap. 5 of Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
  • Quirk, Randolph, et al. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Harlow, Essex: Longman. ISBN 0-582-51734-0.







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