spanish-possessive-adjectives

You Say “Tomatoes,” I Say “They’re My Tomatoes!”: The Beginner’s Guide to Spanish Possessive Adjectives

An anarchist communist friend in Spain tells me that someday we’ll all live together joyously without any concept of private ownership.

What’s mine will be hers, and yours, and theirs, and ours.

So, I asked, does that mean I can send a bunch of squatters to stay in her fabulous beachside apartment?

¡Claro que no! ¡Es mi piso!
(Of course not! It’s my apartment!)

Nor, apparently, can I borrow her rooftop tomato plants:

¡Son mis plantas!
(They are my plants!)

So, at least until the revolution brings fierce egalitarianism to Spain, it seems that Spanish possessive adjectives will continue to be useful here. If you want to speak excellent Spanish—and keep capitalist pigs like me from stealing your tomatoes—you’re going to want to study these a bit.

Spanish has a few more forms of possessive adjectives than English does, so be alert. That said, this is a topic that Spanish learners usually master without too much difficulty, though there are a few common mistakes to be aware of that are pointed out later in this post.

This is easy to approach for beginners, but be aware that you’ll be better off if you already know your Spanish pronouns (yo, tú, nosotros, etc.), genders and a bit about the present tense before you start.

We’ll discuss long-form Spanish possessive adjectives later in the post, but for beginners, just learning the short forms is quite enough for most purposes.
 


 
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Singular Spanish Possessive Adjectives (Short Form)

The short-form singular Spanish possessive adjectives are as follows:

  • mi — my
  • tu — your (speaking to a single person, informally)
  • su — his, her, their, its, your (formal singular and plural)
  • nuestro/nuestra — our
  • vuestro/vuestra — your (speaking to more than one person, informally)

Genders:

Nuestro is used when talking about a masculine object that we own:

nuestro teléfono
(our telephone)

If the thing we own is considered feminine, we change the “o” at the end to an “a”:

nuestra mesa
(our table)

It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with our genders, that is, the gender identities of the people who are owning something.

The same change happens with vuestro:

vuestro coche
(your car)

vuestra casa
(your house)

Mi, tu and su do not change for gender. So yes, as we’ve seen above, “his,” “her,” “their,” formal “your” and “its” are all the same word in Spanish: su.

As with vosotros (the plural informal you), vuestro/vuestra is not used in Latin America; su is used instead.

Plural Spanish Possessive Adjectives (Short Form)

Congratulations on owning more than one thing! To indicate as much, just add an “s” to the end of your possessive adjectives:

  • mis — my
  • tus — your (speaking to a single person, informally)
  • sus — his, her, their, its, your (formal singular and plural)
  • nuestros/nuestras — our
  • vuestros/vuestras — your (speaking to more than one person, informally)

Remember, this added “s” is because there’s more than one thing being owned, and has nothing to do with the person or people owning them. For example:

mis coches
(my cars)

tus casas
(your houses)

nuestros perros
(our dogs)

Usage of Short-form Spanish Possessive Adjectives

The words we learned above are adjectives (describing words) that always go before the noun they’re modifying. Let’s take a look at these adjectives for describing ownership in action.

Examples with short-form Spanish possessive adjectives

Son mis libros.
(These are my books.)

Quiero comprar vuestro coche.
(I want to buy your car.) — Talking to more than one person who own the car, informally.

Nuestro hijo es alto.
(Our son is tall.)

Me gusta tu camisa.
(I like your shirt.) — Speaking to someone informally.

Su papel está aquí.
(His/her/its/their/your (formal) paper is here.)

There are a lot of possible ways to interpret that last sentence, aren’t there? Usually, the meaning is apparent from the context, but if not, there are of course ways to provide more clarity.

Possible confusion with su and how to avoid it

Since su can mean so many things, we’ll sometimes want to avoid that word to make it clear who’s doing the owning. We can do this by using the preposition de, which means “of,” but can be placed after a noun to express ownership.

Es el artículo de Roberta.
(It’s Roberta’s article.)

We can also use subject pronouns instead of “Roberta.” So instead of saying something totally correct but a bit vague, like:

Es su artículo.
(It’s his/her/its/their/your article.)

We can be more precise, if needed:

Es el artículo de ella.
(It’s her article.)

Es el artículo de él.
(It’s his article.)

Es el artículo de ellas.
(It’s their article.) — Owned by a group of all women.

Es el artículo de ustedes.
(It’s your article.) — Talking to more than one person formally.

And so on, with other subject pronouns: de ellos, de usted. This construction also provides more emphasis than just saying “Es su artículo.”

When to avoid Spanish possessive adjectives

The most common mistakes made by English speakers with Spanish possessive adjectives actually involve using them too much!

When you have a reflexive verb, that means that the action in question is already “going back” onto the subject, so you don’t need (and shouldn’t use) a possessive adjective. If I want to inform people that I’m washing my hands, I would not use a possessive adjective as we do in English:

Me lavo mis manos.

Rather, I should say:

Me lavo las manos.
(I’m washing my hands.) — Very literally: “I’m washing myself the hands.”

Also remember that the words you’ve just learned are adjectives, meaning they must be followed by a noun. So, if you’re a hypocritical Spanish fierce egalitarian, you can’t say:

¡Todo lo que ves aquí es mí!

In this case, you should rather use your Spanish possessive pronouns (which are, incidentally, identical to the long-form Spanish possessive adjectives discussed in the last section of this article):

¡Todo lo que ves aquí es mío!
(Everything you see here is mine!)

Repeating Spanish possessive adjectives

Unlike in English, in Spanish you generally repeat the possessive adjectives when talking about more than one object that’s owned.

Son mis lápices y mis cuadernos.
(They are my pencils and my notebooks.)

The exception to this when you’re using two nouns to describe the same actual thing.

Es mi amante y mejor amigo.
(He is my lover and best friend.) — Talking about a single amazing person who fulfills these two functions.

For Occasional Use: Long-form Spanish Possessive Adjectives

There are also long-form Spanish adjectives. They’re used after nouns and can sometimes sound a bit more literary, but do get used in standard speech, often for emphasis. They modify according to the gender and number of the thing being possessed, as follows:

  • mío/mía/míos/mías — (of) mine
  • tuyo/tuya/tuyos/tuyas — (of) yours (speaking to a single person, informally)
  • suyo/suya/suyos/suyas — (of) his, hers, theirs, yours (formal singular and plural)
  • nuestro/nuestra/nuestros/nuestras — (of) ours
  • vuestro/vuestra/vuestros/vuestras — (of) yours (speaking to more than one person, informally)

Here’s how they look in context:

Vamos a casa vuestra.
(We’re going to the house of yours.)

Toma la carta tuya.
(Take the letter of yours.)

 

I’m guessing you feel possessive over a few things in your life as well; now you should have the vocabulary to say so!

Whether you’re teasing the communist anarchists in your life, or just making it clear who has what, I wish you the best with discussing all of this in Spanish.


Mose Hayward writes travel advice—including why those huge backpacker bags are terrible for visiting Europe and South America.
 


 

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