Teaching Possessive Pronouns to ESL Students

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Possessive pronouns can sometimes be confusing, particularly for ESL learners. This lesson provides teachers with advice and ideas for teaching possessive pronouns to ESL students of all ages and abilities.

Why So Possessive?

One of the favorite words of native English-speaking toddlers is mine. However, learning correct usage of all possessive pronouns, or pronouns that show ownership, is confusing for most students, especially for those learning English as a Second Language (ESL). A major difficulty these students have in learning proper usage of these words is understanding when and how to use these pronouns. This lesson discusses how ESL teachers can help their students learn possessive pronouns.

What Are Possessive Pronouns?

Begin by clearly explaining what possessive pronouns are. Before laying out the answers directly, ask your students what they already know and note their responses on the blackboard. After a few minutes, supplement any missing information with the following information provided.

  • Possessive pronouns show ownership.
    • That coat is mine. This chair is hers.
  • Possessive pronouns include (with the associated personal pronoun):
    • Mine/my (I)
    • Your/yours (you)
    • His (he)
    • Her/hers (she)
    • Its (it)
    • Our/ours (we)
    • Their/theirs (they)
  • Possessive pronouns replace possessive nouns.
    • Mary's desk becomes her desk.
  • Possessive pronouns never include apostrophes.

How to Use Possessive Pronouns

Once students have become familiar with the definition of possessive pronouns, describing correct usage is the next logical step. One helpful way to accomplish this is by reading sentences aloud and then asking if the sentence is correct. For example:

  1. Ours car is parked over there. (Incorrect)
  2. The car parked over there is ours. (Correct)
  3. Hers is that book over there. (Correct)
  4. Over there is her book. (Correct)
  5. His having come here is unwanted. (Correct, but awkward. Ask students for better ways to say this sentence.)
  6. My mother and her's mother are friends. (Incorrect)

While choosing the correct sentence may seem obvious to a native speaker, it may not be so obvious to ESL learners. As you read sample sentences, ask students to correct the ones they think are wrong or to offer better, clearer alternatives. You can also increase the difficulty of the sentences based on the level of your students.

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