french-possessive-pronouns

The Simple Guide to Mastering French Possessive Pronouns

Think fast.

Do you actually know what a possessive pronoun is?

Be honest. No cheating. And no hitting the back button or closing the window.

Trust me, the world of grammar is no kinder outside of this blog post.

Is a possessive pronoun like the word “my” in the phrase “my worst nightmare?”

Or, is it like the word “mine,” as in “this recurring nightmare of mine?”

Trick question. It’s sort of both.

Words like “my” are sometimes referred to as “possessive adjectives,” and sometimes as “weak possessive pronouns.”

But they’re also known as “possessive determiners.” Oh, and “dependent possessive pronouns.”

Whereas words like “mine” are known as “strong possessive pronouns.” Or just “possessive pronouns.”

Well, we appear to be stuck in someone’s nightmare right now, don’t we?

If you’re searching for an answer to what “French possessive pronouns” and “French possessive adjectives” are, and you feel like you’ve stumbled into an endless labyrinth where you opened up what might have been a secret passageway only to find yourself tumbling through space, well, hang in there. Or, you know, don’t.

You’ll probably eventually hit a pile of mattresses or something.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking at what French possessive pronouns are and how they work.

Feel free to join us.

Learn a foreign language with videos

Resources for French Possessive Pronoun Practice

I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of having to think about things as little as possible. If we have to learn French grammar, let’s try to do it intuitively.

I’m about to explain how these so-called “possessive pronouns” work, but here are some resources that will hopefully enable you to suffer from my explanation as little as possible.

  • “Le Tien, Le Mien (Yours, Mine) by Najwa Nimri. This song is a good resource for memorizing the masculine singular French possessive pronouns, which we’ll learn below. It’s pretty catchy, too. Najwa Nimri is actually from Spain and generally sings in either Spanish or English, but this song happens to be in French. Let’s not wear ourselves out thinking about why. We’re about to tackle the French language, which is mysterious enough.

french-possessive-pronouns

  • FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. With FluentU, you learn to use all parts of grammar, including possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives, and you see them in action the way they’re used in real life. This way, you can stop worrying about what all these words are called and just learn them.
  • Tex’s French Grammar Possessive Pronouns lesson. Here’s a lesson on the possessive pronouns that includes audio examples, dialogues and a fill-in-the-blank exercise.
  • BBC Possessive Pronouns practice and test. The BBC offers some quick practice followed by a multiple-choice test.

How to Own French Possessive Pronouns Like a Boss

French Possessive Adjectives: Your Gateway to Possessive Pronouns

Okay, so for our own purposes in this post, we’ll either refer to French possessive adjectives or French possessive pronouns, regardless of what they might be called the rest of the time.

French possessive adjectives, then, are the little words that indicate possession alongside nouns, like the mon in mon chapeau (my hat), or the ta in ta baguette magique (your magic wand) or the leurs in leurs licornes (their unicorns).

To put it simply, these little words change according to the gender and number of the nouns they’re attached to, as well as the possessor.

With the three examples above, we have a masculine singular noun (chapeau), a feminine singular noun (baguette magique) and a plural noun (licornes). Let’s take these three words and see how their possessive adjectives change according to who they belong to.

First up, the hat:

Mon chapeau (my hat)

Ton chapeau (singular or informal “your” hat)

Son chapeau (singular “their,” his, her or its hat)

Notre chapeau (our hat)

Votre chapeau (plural or formal “your” hat)

Leur chapeau (plural “their” hat)

Now, here’s what happens when we do the same with a feminine singular noun:

Ma baguette magique (my magic wand)

Ta baguette magique (your magic wand)

Sa baguette magique (singular “their”/his/her/its magic wand)

Simple enough, right? I don’t need to write out the rest of this list because the feminine singular possessive adjectives are exactly the same as masculine singular for “our,” plural or formal “your” and plural “their” (notre, votre, leur).

So, now there are just the plural adjectives:

Mes licornes (my unicorns)

Tes licornes (your unicorns)

Ses licornes (their/his/her/its unicorns)

Nos licornes (our unicorns)

Vos licornes (your unicorns)

Leurs licornes (their unicorns)

Getting to Know the French Possessive Pronouns

So, as we can see, the possessive adjectives are used in front of nouns to indicate possession of those nouns. On the other hand, bona fide possessive pronouns, or strong pronouns or whatever you want to call them, indicate possession by replacing the noun completely.

Meet and Greet: Introducing the French Possessive Pronouns

Like possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns in French are assigned according to the gender and number of the noun and who’s doing the possessing. However, possessive pronouns are actually a little more involved because plural possessive pronouns are also differentiated by gender.

Before we go any further, it’s worth noting a key difference between English and French when it comes to both possessive adjectives and pronouns. French possession words don’t care at all about the gender of the possessor. In French, the adjective sa is feminine based on the noun it precedes.

Let’s look at the example sa mère. From this out-of-context phrase, we don’t know whether it should be interpreted as “her mother,” “his mother,” “their mother,” etc.

French author Anne Garréta actually wrote a love story called “Sphinx,” in which neither character’s gender is ever revealed, while still using terms like ses bras (their, singular, arms). When Emma Ramadan translated the book into English, she faced different challenges in keeping the language gender-neutral, with the added challenge of having to work from the original French text.

With all of that in mind, let’s meet the French possessive pronouns.

C’est ton chapeau ? (Is that your hat?)

Oui, c’est le mien ! (Yes, it’s mine!)

So, as we can see, our masculine singular hat now has a special word with its own little definite article to replace it that corresponds to its masculine-ness, its singular-ness and the fact that it’s “mine.” That’s all a possessive pronoun really is.

Here’s what the rest of those replacement words look like depending on who the hat belongs to:

C’est le tien ! (It’s yours!) (Informal, singular)

C’est le sien ! (It’s hers!) (Could also be his, singular “theirs” or its)

C’est le nôtre ! (It’s ours!)

C’est le vôtre ! (It’s yours!) (Plural, formal)

C’est le leur ! (It’s theirs!) (Plural)

And now for that magic baguette, I mean wand:

C’est ta baguette magique ? (Is that your magic wand?)

Oui, c’est la mienne. (Yes, it’s mine.)

Non, c’est la tienne. (No, it’s yours.)

Non, c’est la sienne. (No, it’s his.) (Could also be hers, singular “theirs” or its)

Again, we’re going to stop right there, because aside from the article la, the other possessive pronouns are the same in the feminine singular as the masculine singular. No use in making this list look scarier than it needs to.

À qui sont ces licornes ? (Whose unicorns are these?)

Always a good question. Now, here it becomes relevant that “unicorn” is feminine in French. As things get slightly more complicated, though, consider that at this point, you could probably just guess what the rest of the possessive pronouns are going to be.

Ce sont les miennes. (They are mine.)

Ce sont les tiennes. (They are yours.)

Ce sont les siennes. (They are his.) (Or hers/singular “theirs”/its)

Ce sont les nôtres. (They are ours.)

Ce sont les vôtres. (They are yours.)

Ce sont les leurs. (They are theirs.)

I mean, this is getting tedious, right? At least I introduced majestic unicorns to liven things up. I guess we have to continue now with the masculine plural possessive pronouns. I mean, do we? You could probably predict with 100% accuracy what they’re going to be. Feel free to try that.

À qui sont ces aéroglisseurs ? (Whose hovercrafts are these?)

Yes, aéroglisseur is masculine. Aren’t you glad I’m only teaching you the most important things today?

Ce sont les miens. (They are mine.)

Ce sont les tiens. (They are yours.)

Ce sont les siens. (They are hers.) (Or anyone else’s who exists in the third person singular)

You could have done all of that in your sleep, huh? At this point, I’m sure I can just tell you that the masculine plural is the same as the feminine plural for those last three pronouns.

If you need some practice, I might recommend this… uh, existential short film starring Miss Remotely Angry Lightening Bulb:

(This video is available with interactive captions on FluentU.)

It might raise more questions than it answers, about life and garages and the color blue. But, it will help you review your possessives.

French Possessive Pronouns in Action

Now that we’ve learned all of the French possessive pronouns and all of the French possessive adjectives, you can probably imagine fairly easily how they can generally be used together and apart.

But, we’re going to look at these words in context a bit, just so you don’t run into any confusion down the road.

Usage with Prepositions

Now, since possessive pronouns are used with the definite articles le, la and les, those definite articles will sometimes need to combine with prepositions as contractions.

Here’s the breakdown:

à (to) + le = au

à + les = aux

à + la = Leave it!

de (of, from) + le = du

de + les = des

de + la = Leave it!

Keep these in mind as we look at some examples in the next section.

Idiomatic Usage

One idiomatic usage you should be aware of can be found in the phrases À la tienne ! and À la vôtre ! These are phrases you might hear when someone is drinking to your (or someone else’s) health, or just saying the equivalent of “cheers” before downing a drink, or three. They literally mean “to yours,” and in this case the “yours” is a stand-in for the feminine singular santé (health), which is itself a word for drinking a toast to someone. 

You can hear À la vôtre ! in this video from FastGoodCuisine, where the host and a friend are trying out Coca-Cola Life.

(This video is also available with interactive captions on FluentU.)

Another idiomatic usage involves referring to those you have deep ties with, such as friends and family, as “yours.” This is sort of like how in English we refer to “you and yours.”

For example:

 Joyeux Noël à toi et aux tiens. (Merry Christmas to you and yours.)

In the example above, you can see that à combines with les to make aux. However, the articles remain separated from the prepositions in à la tienne and à la vôtre because feminine articles and prepositions don’t contract.

Y mettre du sien is an expression you might hear that refers to “doing your part.” Tout le monde doit y mettre du sien is a fairly common phrase that basically means, “Everyone must do their part.” This phrase showed up in a statement from the UN Secretary-General for World Oceans Day.

Y mettre du sien can be used with other possessive pronouns as well.

For example:

Ne sois pas paresseux. Tu dois y mettre du tien. (Don’t be lazy. You have to do your part.)

 

Well, that wasn’t too chaotic, was it?

French can be a fussy language, but with a bit of effort, you can make it yours.


Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer who blogs, tweets (@CooksChicken) and will probably be having nightmares about Miss Remotely Angry Lightening Bulb.

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