What Is the Possessive Case? (with Examples)

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What Is the Possessive Case? (with Examples)

The possessive case is predominantly used for showing possession (i.e., ownership). The possessive case applies to nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. For example:
  • Possessive Nouns. With nouns, the possessive case is usually shown by preceding it with of or by adding 's (or just ') to the end.
  • Possessive Pronouns. The possessive-case pronouns are mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs.
  • Possessive Adjectives. The possessive-case adjectives are my, your, his, her, its, our, and their.

Examples of the Possessive Case

The possessive case is predominantly used for showing possession but not always. Look at these examples (possessive case shaded):
  • I don't have a bank account, because I don't know my mother's maiden name. (Paula Poundstone)
  • (These two are clearly about possession. They mean: the mother of me and the maiden name of my mother.)

  • You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans. (Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004)
  • (These two are clearly about possession. They mean: character of a fellow and way of him.)

  • Psychiatry enables us to correct our faults by confessing our parents' shortcomings. (Laurence J Peter, 1919-1988)
  • (These three are about possession too.)
  • My theory of evolution is that Darwin was adopted. (Steven Wright)
  • (Remember, a noun can be made possessive by preceding it with of. This is common when the possessor is not a person. In this example, the possessor is evolution, which "owns" my theory. You can see that the idea of possession (i.e., ownership) can be quite abstract.)
  • Hope is tomorrow's veneer over today's disappointment. (Evan Esar, 1899-1995)
  • (Here are two more examples of abstract possession. How can a time own something? This is common in temporal expressions such as a day's pay and two weeks' holiday.)
  • Wagner's music is better than it sounds. (Edgar Wilson Nye, 1850-1896)
  • (This is another example of abstract possession. Wagner does not own the music. It is music by Wagner. This happens in terms such children's stories, which are stories for children (not owned by them), and Picasso's paintings, which are paintings by Picasso (not owned by him).)

    Complications with the Possessive Case

    The possessive case often creates debate among grammarians. The main issues are:

    Q: Is the possessive case the same as the genitive case? A: Yes

    The term possessive case and genitive case can be used interchangeably. However, as this case quite often has nothing to do with possession, some grammarians like to draw a distinction between the possessive case and the genitive case. Look at this example:
    • He used Mike's garage to store Monet's paintings.
    There are two examples of the possessive case in the sentence above. The second example, however, tells us the paintings were by Monet. It does not indicate that Monet owned them. Some grammarians would call this the genitive case as opposed to the possessive case.

    Read more about the genitive case.

    Q: Are possessive adjectives a type of pronoun? A: Yes

    Possessive adjectives (i.e., my, your, his, her, its, our, and their) are a type of pronoun. Therefore, they are also known as possessive pronouns. This is a problem for some people as they consider the possessive pronouns to be mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs.

    Here at Grammar Monster, we follow the convention which categorizes them all as possessive pronouns and further categorizes them into two sub-groups: possessive adjectives (my, your, etc.) and absolute possessive pronouns. (mine, yours, etc.).

    Read more about possessive pronouns (i.e., absolute possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives).

    Using Apostrophes to Form Possessive Nouns

    Here are the basic rules for creating a possessive noun with an apostrophe:

    TypeExamplePossessive Case
    singular noundogdog's dinner
    plural noundogsdogs' dinner
    singular noun ending -sChrisChris' hat or Chris's hat
    plural noun not ending -sPeoplePeople's rights