Query: In the Tips for Body 2, you refer to mo/m' (my) and do/d' (your) as Possessive Pronouns. I would consider these to be Possessive Adjectives, requiring a following noun, with the Possessive Pronouns being the equivalents of mine, yours, his (this one having the same in form as the PA), hers , ours, yours, theirs, and therefore standalone noun-replacements.

January 12, 2020


Well, I learned something new!

Defining Possessive Pronouns Possessive pronouns do exactly what it seems like they should do. They are the pronouns that help us show possession or ownership in a sentence. There are two types of possessive pronouns: The strong (or absolute) possessive pronouns are mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, and theirs. They refer back to a noun or noun phrase already used, replacing it to avoid repetition: "I said that phone was mine."

The weak possessive pronouns (also called possessive adjectives) are my, your, his, her, its, our, your, and their. They function as determiners in front of a noun to describe who something belongs to: "I said that's my phone."

Well that is interesting, Mimi, thank you. In not far off 60 years of learning - and over 40 of teaching - languages, I've never seen my, your etc referred to in any grammar book as possessive pronouns. To me a pronoun is the standalone word, and the aforementioned are not standalone therefore are not pronouns - but I stand corrected. Never knew there were two different kinds. :) Every day's a school day.

O' Maolalaigh has a whole section on "possessive pronouns" pp14.....

In the definition above it says: The weak possessive pronouns (also called possessive adjectives) are my, your, his, her, its, our, your, and their. They function as determiners in front of a noun to describe who something belongs to: "I said that's my phone."

I would think that " they function as determiners in front of a noun to describe..." sounds like a good example of an adjective. I'm with nicdhaibhidh on this one.

Most languages don’t have such a distinction and possessive pronouns in most contexts refer to what you call posessive adjectives.

In some contexts, possessive adjectives would be wrong, take for example Slavic languages, in Czech or Polish what one calls possessive pronouns are words like můj, mój ‘my’ (working as adjective), eg. můj dům, mój dom ‘my house’.

But then you have possessive adjectives in the kind of otcův, ojców ‘father’s’, eg. otcův dům ‘father’s house’ – here otcův is truly an adjective (and not just genitive of otec ‘father’, that’d be otce, ojca, eg. dům otce, dom ojca, also ‘father’s house’).

So when you speak about possessive adjectives in the context of Slavic languages, you have a completely different beast in mind than English mine.

The word pronoun generally is used for any word that can stand for a class of nouns (see how Czech possessive adjective otcův is not a pronoun, as it is derived from and stands for only one noun, otec, ‘father’) in any one of their form’s (possessive pronouns stand for noun in genitive: his house instead of Tom’s house, where his stands for Tom’s) and they don’t have to work on their own in every context a noun would work on its own.

Also, see that what you call possessive adjectives don’t actually morphologically work as adjectives either:

  • you can say the house is red (with an adjective, red, as the predicate),
  • but you can’t say the house is my (but then you can say the house is mine – would that mean mine is actually a possessive adjective…?).

If a pronoun stands for a noun, then none of the following possessive adjectives can stand as nouns: my, your, her, our, their. Only "his" can do that. So whatever they are, in english, pronoun is a misnomer. Whereas all the possessive pronouns can stand for nouns qualified by a possessive adjective. Who owns this house? This house is my house. This house is mine. (ie mine stands for my house)

This house is big, red, and mine

Rephrasing it as this house is big, red, and my house sounds awkward – you wouldn’t mix adjectives and nouns in a compound predicate. This shows that in this context mine also takes the role of an adjective.

You could substitute this with genitive: this house is big, red, and Tom’s (in that sense you could say that mine stands for a noun in genitive).

And the fact that you cannot say the house is my shows that my is not an adjective (you cannot substitute it for an adjective in a valid sentence).

The same with archaic usage eg. in Shakespeare’s You, brother mine… (you cannot substitute brother my brother, mine here is just an attribute of brother).

By your logic which would not be a pronoun, what would not be a pronoun, where would not be a pronoun (but it is), etc.

Pronouns do stand for nouns in certain contexts. But not in all contexts, and sometimes they might require special syntax. Like my requiring a noun to attribute going after it, while in all other contexts you use another form mine – although historically they are just variants of the same word, mine was just used before vowels, see eg. name Ned from re-bracketing of older mine Ed, which today would be my Ed.

Coincidentally, in Gaelic you also cannot use possessive pronouns predicatively. You cannot say *tha seo mo for this is mine, you need to say something like is (ann?) leamsa a tha seo, lit. something like ‘this is with me’.

Hi Silmeth, I take your points, and appreciate that in some other languages than english, there is no distinction in the words.

I suppose I am quibbling about word usage, ie what are adjectives and what are pronouns and why they have the names they do. It only matters when there are misunderstandings which is why grammar is inescapable, especially when translating or learning other languages. You don't need any of these terms as a native speaker speaking to other native speakers, but you do need clear ways of explaining them in the context of another language. Just mine tuppence worth :)

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