French Possessive Pronouns

Instructor: Ada Pouplard

Ada has taught French at Tulane University and hold a master's degree in French Literature

Did you know there are four ways of saying 'mine' in French? In this lesson, you will learn the three criteria used to determine the correct use of possessive pronouns in French.

What is a Possessive Pronoun?

Like most pronouns, the possessive pronoun replaces a noun or a group of words that form a nominal group. It avoids repetition of the same noun within the same sentence or the same paragraph and instead uses 'mine,' 'yours,' 'hers' etc. Just like in English, when using a pronoun in French, it should be clear from the context what or who you are referring to.

Just like possessive adjectives (mon, ton, ses, etc.), possessive pronouns establish a relationship between an object or a person (let's call it the possession) and another object or person (let's call it the possessor).

Example:

Mes yeux sont verts. (My eyes are green)

Les miens sont verts. (Mine are green)

In this example it is clear from the context that the possessive pronoun les miens is replacing the nominal group mes yeux. In the first sentence, the relationship is established by mes which indicates that the possessor is myself, 1st person singular, and the possession is yeux. In the second sentence, the nominal group mes yeux is replaced with the possessive pronoun les miens.

The Different Forms of Possessive Pronouns in French:

Possessor English Masculine Singular Feminine Singular Masculine Plural Feminine Plural
1st pers.sing mine le mien la mienne les miens les miennes
2nd pers.sing yours le tien la tienne les tiens les tiennes
3rd pers.sing his/hers le sien la sienne les siens les siennes
1st pers.plur. ours le nôtre la nôtre les nôtres les nôtres
2nd pers.plur. yours le vôtre la vôtre les vôtres les vôtres
3rd pers.plur. theirs le leur la leur les leurs les leurs

The Structure of Possessive Pronouns

As you noticed from the table above, French possessive pronouns are composed of two words. The first one is the determinant le, la, or les. The second one marks the possessive.

Since in French each noun is either feminine or masculine, both parts of the possessive pronouns have to agree in gender and number with the noun they replace. Let's examine the four ways to say 'mine.'

  • le mien can replace any masculine singular nominal group.
  • la mienne any feminine singular nominal group.
  • les miens any masculine plural nominal group.
  • les miennes any feminine plural nominal group.

And just like in English, the possessive pronoun also varies depending on the possessor.

  • mine le mien, la mienne, les miens, les miennes
  • yours le tien, la tienne, les tiens, les tiennes
  • etc.

Therefore, while in English you only have one variable (i.e. the possessor: mine, yours, his, ours, theirs), in French you have three (i.e. possessor, number, and gender)!

Note that for the plural form of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person plural, you don't need to worry about the gender of the possession anymore: the pronouns are the same for both plural masculine and feminine.

Example:

Ma valise est noire. (My suitcase is black)

La mienne est noire. (Mine is black)

Valise is feminine singular, and in this case, the possessor of valise is 1st person singular, therefore the whole nominal group ma valise is replaced with the 1st person singular, feminine, singular possessive pronoun la mienne. Follow me?

Possessive Pronouns and the Prepositions à and de

Since the possessive pronoun starts with the determinant le, la or les, it is subject to the contraction rules when preceded by prepositions à and de.

  • à + le = au
  • à + les = les
  • de + le = du
  • de + les = des

Example:

Damien donne un livre à son fils. (Damien gives a book to his son.)

Damien donne un livre au sien. (Damien gives a book to his.)

Example:

Virginie a besoin de ses lunettes. (Virginie needs her glasses.)

Virginie a besoin des siennes. (Virginie needs hers.)

Using the Correct Possessive Pronoun

To use the proper possessive pronoun you should therefore ask yourself three questions:

1. Who is the possessor?

2. Is the noun designating the possession singular or plural?

3. Is the noun designating the possession feminine or masculine?

Example:

Son frère habite à Toulouse. (His brother lives in Toulouse)

In this sentence we want to replace the nominal group son frère by a possessive pronoun.

1. The use of son tells me the possessor is 3rd person singular, so we can use:

  • le sien
  • la sienne
  • les siens
  • les siennes

Note that whereas in English the possessive pronoun takes a different form depending on whether the 'possessor' is feminine or masculine at the 3rd person singular (his and hers), there is no distinction in French - at least that's one thing that is easier! The different pronoun form arises from whether the 'possession' is feminine or masculine.

2. The noun designating the possession, frère, is singular, therefore I can either use:

  • le sien
  • la sienne

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