Beep, beep! Pull over, French learner. Random spot check.
Have you started learning the most commonly used French verbs?
Oh, you have. Great!
How about adjectives? You getting a healthy mix of adjectives in your French diet? Excellent.
Hey, is this your coffee? Would you mind if I have a sip? Because I don’t hear you saying it’s yours.
Ah ha, I see we’re still a little foggy on possessive adjectives.
Well, it’s not a serious violation. I’m just going to have to ask you to step out of the vehicle for a quick review.
And let’s just say, a new skill will soon be yours!
Whose Is Whose? French Possessive Adjectives
Like English, the French language has a special group of adjectives that indicate possession of the nouns that follow. Possession, as you probably already know, indicates who owns an object or who that object belongs to. It’s important to be able to indicate possession when dealing with food and drinks, or other stuff you don’t want people grabbing out of your hand.
For example, if I say, “Hey! That’s my coffee!” you know you better back away because that coffee belongs to me, I intend to drink it and I may get grumpy if I don’t.
Furthermore, these words are called possessive adjectives because they modify the following noun in the same way that regular adjectives do (i.e., in “the red house,” “house” is a noun, and it’s modified by the adjective “red”).
But enough grammatical mumbo-jumbo, right? Here’s the simplified version.
Possessive adjectives go before the noun in French, by contrast to other adjectives, and possessive adjectives take the place of articles such as le, la or les (the). For example, if I want to take the words le café (the coffee) in French and show that this coffee is, in fact, my coffee, I would say mon café (my coffee).
But, wait! There’s more. There’s one more major difference between English and French: French possessive adjectives not only change depending on the possessor (i.e., the person who owns the object), but they change depending on the gender of the noun, and depending on whether that noun is singular or plural.
You knew there was a catch, didn’t you? Don’t stress! I’ve broken it all down for you.
French Possessive Adjectives in Action
So, as has already been established, possessive adjectives not only change depending on the person who possesses the object, but they also must agree with the noun (i.e., the “possessed”) in gender and in plurality. Let’s take a look!
That’s my coffee!
The word “my” in English signifies that the noun in question belongs to the speaker or, in the case of French, the je (I) of the conversation. But, remember: It must agree in gender and plurality.
For masculine words, we would say mon (my). For feminine words, we would say ma (my). For plural words, regardless of whether they’re masculine or feminine, we would say mes (my). Check out these words in action:
- C’est mon café ! (It’s my coffee!)
- Où est ma règle ? (Where is my ruler?)
- Ce sont mes livres. (Those are my books.)
No…your coffee is over there!
The word “your” in English means that the following noun belongs to the tu (you) in the conversation. In this case, if the following word is masculine, we would say ton (your). If the word is feminine, we would say ta (your). Lastly, you guessed it, if the word is plural, we would say tes (your) for both masculine and feminine words.
- Ceci est ton café ! (That one is your coffee!)
- Où est ta voiture ? (Where is your car?)
- Où sont tes clés ? (Where are your keys?)
Note: To keep things simple in this post, we’ll talk about tu as being the singular “you” and vous being the plural, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that once you get into formal French, so be sure to check into that.
Not that one, either! That’s her coffee!
Unlike English, French does not distinguish between his and her when it comes to possession. That means that the possessive adjective only changes depending on the gender or plurality of the following noun.
For example, son can mean “his” or “her” and is for masculine nouns. Sa means “his” or “her” as well and is used for feminine nouns. Finally, ses means “his” or “her” and is used for both masculine and feminine nouns in the plural.
- Non, c’est son café ! (No, that’s his/her coffee!)
- Où est sa télévision ? (Where is his/her television?)
- Cherche ses clés ! (Look for his/her keys!)
Excuse me…what are you doing with our coffees?
Ah, simplicity! Well, kinda…for “our,” French uses notre for masculine and feminine nouns. Not for plural nouns, though: For plural nouns, you use nos.
- C’est notre café ! (It’s our coffee!)
- Voilà notre télévision. (There’s our television.)
- Est-ce que vous voudriez lire nos livres ? (Would you like to read our books?)
Oh, my. I didn’t realize these were your coffees.
You’re in luck! The simplicity continues. To say that something belongs to “you all” or “you guys” in colloquial English, French speakers use votre (your) for both masculine and feminine nouns. For plural nouns, however, you use vos.
- Où est votre stylo ? (Where is your pen?)
- Est-ce que ceci est votre voiture ? (Is this your car?)
- Ce sont vos cafés. (These are your coffees.)
Yes, please don’t drink their coffee.
Lastly, we have the possessive adjectives leur and leurs (their). Leur is used for both masculine and feminine nouns in the singular, whereas leurs is used for both masculine and feminine nouns in the plural.
- Oui, c’est leur stylo. (Yes, it’s their pen.)
- Où est leur télévision ? (Where is their television?)
- Ce sont leurs cafés. (These are their coffees.)
A Perfectly French Exception: Feminine Possessive Adjectives and Vowels
What would a French grammatical construction be without an exception?
The feminine possessive adjectives ma (my), ta (your) and sa (his/her) are special in the sense that they cannot be used in front of a noun that starts with a vowel, much in the same way le or la (the) must become l’ in front of a vowel. The difference, however, is that these three feminine possessive adjectives do not simply drop a letter: They change completely.
But worry not: This change isn’t a totally new form. The feminine possessive adjectives simply take the form of masculine possessive adjectives in front of a feminine noun that begins with one of those lovely French vowels.
In short, ma (my), ta (your) and sa (his/her) become mon (my), ton (your) and son (his/her) respectively before a vowel.
Check out these examples:
- C’est mon amie. (She’s my friend.)
Amie is feminine, but we cannot put ma in front of it, so we must use mon.
- Je vais à ton école. (I’m going to your school.)
École is feminine, but we cannot put ta in front of it, so we must use ton.
- Quelle est son idée ? (What’s his/her idea?)
Idée is feminine, but we cannot put sa in front of it, so we must use son.
To Each His Own: One Last Rule
Last one, I promise!
Unlike in English, every French noun in a list must have its own possessive adjective, even if the possessors are the same.
In English, we can say, “Where are my book and cup?” In French, however, we cannot say
Où sont mon livre et tasse ? Rather, we must say: Où sont mon livre et ma tasse ?
Possessive Adjectives Practice
Random spot check complete! Now, here’s some practice for all the wonderful possessive adjectives we’ve learned before I send you on your way.
Isn’t it time you made French possessive adjectives yours?
Just not my coffee.
Please and thank you.
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