Possessive adjectives and pronouns

1. Form
Possessive adjectives
my, your, his/her/its, our, your, their

Possessive pronouns
mine, yours, his/hers, ours, yours, theirs

Note that no apostrophes are used here. Students should guard particularly against the common mistake of writing the possessive its with an apostrophe. it's (with an apostrophe) means it is.

The old form of the second person singular, now no longer used in current English, can be found in the Bible and poetry:
thy    thine

2. Agreement of possessive adjectives
Possessive adjectives in English refer to the possessor and not to the thing possessed. Everything that a man or boy possesses is his thing; everything that a woman or girl possesses is her thing:
Tom's father is his father but Mary's father is her father.
A boy loves his mother but A girl loves her mother.

Everything that an animal or thing possesses is its thing:
A tree drops its leaves in autumn.
A dog wags its tail when it is happy.
But if the sex of the animal is unknown, his/her would often be used.
If there is more than one possessor, human or otherwise, their is used:
The boys are playing with their football.
The girls are with their mothers.
Trees drop their leaves in autumn.
Note that the possessive adjective remains the same whether the thing possessed is singular or plural:
my book, my books
his aunt, his aunts

3. Possessive pronouns are used to replace possessive adjectives + nouns

A. They follow the same rules as possessive adjectives:
This is my pen or This is mine.
It is our room or It is ours.
This is their house or This is theirs.
I have my pen; have you got yours?
Are those your books? No, they are hers.

B. The expression of mine etc. means 'one of my' etc.:
a friend of mine = one of my friends
a sister of hers = one of her sisters

Personal pronouns

4. Form
                                                               Subject        Object
Singular    first person                            I                  me
                  second person                       you             you
                  third person                           he/she/it     him/her/it
Plural        first person                           we              us
                  second person                      you             you
                  third person                          they            them
The old form of the second person singular is:
thou (subject)    thee (object)

5. Use of subject and object forms
A you and it present no difficulty as they have the same form for subject and object:
Did you see the snake? Yes, I saw it and it saw me.
Did it frighten you?

B First and third person forms (other than it)

1 I, he, she, we, they can be subjects of a verb:
I see it.    he knows you.    They live here.
or complements of the verb to be: It is I.
Normally, however, we use the object forms here:
Who is it? It's me.    Where's Tom? That's him over there.
But if the pronoun is followed by a clause, we use the subject forms:
Surely the husband has the right to make the decisions since it is he who pays the bills.

2 me, him, her, us, them can be direct objects of a verb:
I saw her.    Tom likes them.
or indirect objects:
Bill found me a job.      Ann gave him a book.
or objects of a preposition:
with him    for her    without them    to us

6. The position of pronouns used as direct or indirect objects
A An indirect object comes before a direct object:
I told Tom/him a story.
I made Ann/her a cake.
I sent Bill the photos.

B However, if the direct object is a personal pronoun it is more usual to place it directly after the verb and use to or for:
I told it to him.    I made it for her.     I sent them to him.
This position rule does not apply to one, some, any, none etc. We can say either:
He bought one for Ann or He bought Ann one.
He gave something to Jack or He gave Jack something.

7. The position of pronoun objects of phrasal verbs
With many phrasal verbs a noun object can be either in the middle or at the end:
Blow the bridge up/Blow up the bridge.
Hand in your papers/Hand your papers in.
Hang your coat up/ Hang up your coat.
Take your shoes off/Take off your shoes.
If, however, the object is a pronoun, it must be placed in the middle:
blow it up    hand them in    hand it up    take them off
Bring back the books/Bring the books back/Bring them back.
Turn on the light/ Turn the light on/ Turn it on.

8. The pronoun it
it is the third person singular neuter pronoun.
The same form, it, is used for subject and object. The possessive form is its. (Do not confuse this with it's, which is a contraction of it is.)
The plural for it/its is they/them/their, as for people.


A it is normally used of a thing or an animal whose sex we don't know, and sometimes of a baby or small child:
This is my dictionary. I got it cheaply as its cover was torn.
Look at that bird. It always comes to my window.
it can be used of people in sentences such as:
Ann (on phone): Who is that/Who is it?
Bill: It's me.
We can also say:
It was Peter who lent us the money.
It was George who fell into the water.

B it is used in expressions of time, distance, weather, temperature, tide:
It is hot/cold/quiet/noisy in this room.
What time is it? It is six.
What's the date? It's the third of March.
How far is it to York? It is 400 kilometers.
How long does it take to get there? It depends on how you go.
It is raining/snowing/freezing.    It's frosty.     It's a fine night.
It's high tide/low tide.    It's full moon tonight.
In winter it's/it is dark at six o'clock.

Note also:
It's/ It is three years since I saw him = I haven't seen him for three years.

C When an infinitive is subject of a sentence, we usually begin the sentence with it and put the infinitive later; i.e. we say:
It is easy to criticize instead of To criticize is easy
and It is better to be early instead of To be early is better.
Note also:
We found it easy/difficult/ impossible to cross the road.
He thought it best to say nothing.
It never occurred to me to doubt him = I never thought of doubting him.

D it can be used similarly when the subject of a sentence is a clause.
It would be possible to say:
That he has not returned is strange.
That prices will go up is certain.
But it would be much more usual to say:
It is strange that he has not returned.
It is certain that prices will go up.

Note also:
It occurred to me that perhaps he was trying to shield someone.
It struck me that everyone was unusually silent.

E it also acts a subject for impersonal verbs:
it seems    it appears    it looks    it depends    it happens

9. you and one as indefinite pronouns
Either can be used:
Can one camp in the forest?    Can you camp in the forest?
you is more common in ordinary conversation. It is a more 'friendly' pronoun and implies that the speaker can imagine himself in such a position. one is more impersonal and less often used, though the possessive one's quite common:
It's easy to lose one's/your way in Venice.
The correct possessive form must be used:
One has to show one's pass at the door.
You have to show your pass at the door.
If instead of one or you we use a/the + noun, the possessive adjective will obviously be her or his:
One must be patient with one's children.
You must be patient with your children.
A parent must be patient with his children.

10. Use of they/them/their with neither/either, someone/anyone/no one etc.
These expressions are singular and take a singular verb. Their personal pronouns therefore should be he/she and the possessive adjectives should be his/her (he/his for males and mixed sexes; she/her for females). But many native speakers find this troublesome and often use they/their, even when only one sex is involved:
Neither of them remembered their instructions.
Everyone has read the notice, haven't they?
Would anyone lend me their binoculars?
Everybody assembled in the hall where they were welcomed by the secretary.
Nobody objected, did they?

Reflexive and emphasizing pronouns

11. A These are: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves. Note the difference between the second person singular yourself, and the second person plural yourselves. The indefinite reflexive/emphasizing pronoun is oneself.

B. Used as reflexive pronouns
myself, yourself etc. are used as objects of a verb when the action of the verb returns to the doer, i.e. when subject and object are the same person:
I cut myself.    He shaved himself.
It is not always easy to amuse oneself on holiday.
Tom and Ann blamed themselves for the accident.

Note the change of meaning if we replace the reflexive pronoun by the reciprocal pronoun each other:
Tom and Ann blamed each other = Tom blamed Ann and Ann blamed Tom.
myself, yourself etc. are used similarly after a verb + preposition:
He spoke to himself.           Did she pay for herself?
Look after yourself.            Take care of yourselves.
I'm annoyed with myself.    He sat by himself (= alone).
We can also use myself etc. after verb + object + preposition:
She addressed the envelope to herself.
But if the preposition indicates locality, we use the ordinary, not the reflexive, pronouns:
Did you take your dog with you?    
Has he any money on him?
They put the child between them.

12. myself, himself, herself etc. used as emphasizing pronouns myself etc. can also be used to emphasize a noun or pronoun:
The king himself gave her the medal.
When used in this way the pronoun is never essential and can be omitted without changing the sense. It usually emphasizes the subject of the sentence and is then placed after the subject:
Ann herself opened the door.    Tom himself went.
Alternatively it can be placed after the object if there is one:
Ann opened the door herself
or after an intransitive verb:
Tom went himself.
If the intransitive verb is followed by a preposition + noun, the emphasizing pronoun can be placed after this noun:
Tom went to London himself or Tom himself went to London.
When it emphasizes another noun it is placed immediately after it:
I saw Tom himself.    I spoke to the President himself.
She liked the diamond itself but not the setting.

Note the difference between:
I did it myself (it was done by me and not by someone else)
and I did it by myself (I did it without help).


Mr. Gibbs' English © 2013. All Rights Reserved.