French possessive pronouns

Les pronoms possessifs en Français

Salut, and welcome to our lesson about French possessive pronouns at Language Easy!

Allez, on y va !

What are the French possessive pronouns ?

Qu’est-ce que les pronoms possessifs ?

Possessive pronouns (les pronoms possessifs) replace nouns that are preceded by a possessive adjective. Their carry the information of who is owning something, and as such they replace two referents at the same time :

  • the owned object
  • the owner
As for any pronoun, the context must make it clear whom and what we are talking about, else it will be impossible to understand. In the following examples, what are we talking about ?
  • C’est le leur.
    It’s theirs.
  • Je t’échange le mien contre le tien!
    I’ll trade mine for yours!

Hard to say…

Note that the use of a possessive pronoun makes sense only if both the owner and the object are replaced in the sentence :

  • Voici la soeur de Jade→Voici la sienne.
    Here is Jade´s sister→Here is hers.

Obviously, if the owner is to be expressed but not the object, then we would use a demonstrative pronoun instead :

  • Voici celle de Jade.
    Here is Jade´s.

And if the owner is replaced while the object is expressed, then we could use a a possessive adjective or a demonstrative pronoun :

  • Voici sa soeur / Voici la soeur de celle-ci.
    Here is his/her sister / Here is the sister of hers. (lit. the sister of this one)

Choice of the right French possessive pronoun

Choisir le bon pronom possessif

French possessive pronouns vary in gender and in number.
  1. The choice of the pronoun corresponds to the grammatical person and the number of the owner
  2. The choice of its gender and number corresponds to the gender and number of the object that is owned.

In English, the choice of the pronoun only depends on the gender of who’s possessing (his, hers, theirs), and they don’t vary in number. A brother, a sister, two brothers, two sisters : any of these ones are theirs. Easy ! But it’s completely different (and more complex) in French. If you’re a native English speaker, chances are that it will drive you a bit crazy.

Remember : for the agreement of French possessive pronouns, focus on the owned object !

1. The grammatical person

La personne grammaticale

Reminder : the grammatical person represents the relation between who is speaking and the grammatical subject of the sentence.

  1. first person : the narrator  (singular) or a group that includes him (plural)
  2. second person : the individual (singular) or group (plural) to whom the narrator is addressing
  3. third person : a third person (singular) or group (plural).

As well as each grammatical person has its own personal pronouns and possessive adjectives, it also has its own corresponding possessive pronouns.

French possessive pronouns for a masculine singular object : un chat (a cat)

Personal pronoun Possessive adjective Possessive pronoun
Moi mon chat (m)
le mien
Toi ton chat (m)
le tien
Lui, Elle son chat (m)
le sien
Nous, on notre chat (m)
le nôtre
Vous votre chat (m)
le vôtre
Eux / Elles leur chat (m)
le leur

As we said before, the pronoun depends only on the grammatical person of the subject, not on his gender :

  • C’est le chat de Léa (f) → C’est le sien
    This is Lea´s cat / hers
  • C’est le chat de Pierre (m) → C’est le sien
    This is Pierre´s cat / his

Note that the forms of the pronoun for the 1st and 2nd plural grammatical person are similar to the corresponding possessive adjective, but with a circumflex accent on the “o” :

  • C’est notre maison → c’est la nôtre
    It’s our house / ours
  • C’est votre voiture → c’est la vôtre
    It’s your car / yours

Also, note that the corresponding possessive pronoun used with the singular neutral pronoun “on” is the same as the plural 1st person, which can feel a bit weird as it looks like we are mixing up plural and singular in the same sentence, but it’s the right thing to do :

  • On utilisera la nôtre.
    We will use ours.

2. The agreement : Gender and number

L’accord en genre et en nombre

Now that we have the right grammatical person, we still have to make the agreement in gender and number. Here are the three  missing tables for feminine, singular and plural. If you remember our lesson about how to form the feminine and plural of French adjectives (you can read it again here), you’ll be able to derive these tables yourself from the first one, so you don’t actually have to learn them, as there is nothing irregular here.

French possessive pronouns for a feminine singular object : une chatte (a female cat)

Personal pronoun Possessive adjective Possessive pronoun
Moi ma chatte (f)
la mienne
Toi ta chatte (f)
la tienne
Lui, Elle sa chatte (f)
la sienne
Nous, on notre chatte (f)
la nôtre
Vous votre chatte (f)
la vôtre
Eux / Elles leur chatte (f)
la leur

French possessive pronouns for a masculine plural object : des chats (male cats)

Personal pronoun Possessive adjective Possessive pronoun
Moi mes chats (f)
les miens
Toi tes chats (f)
les tiens
Lui, Elle ses chats (f)
les siens
Nous, on nos chats (f)
les nôtres
Vous vos chats (f)
les vôtres
Eux / Elles leurs chats (f)
les leurs

French possessive pronouns for a feminine plural object : des chattes (female cats)

Personal pronoun Possessive adjective Possessive pronoun
Moi mes chattes (f)
les miennes
Toi tes chattes (f)
les tiennes
Lui, Elle ses chattes (f)
les siennes
Nous, on nos chattes (f)
les nôtres
Vous vos chattes (f)
les vôtres
Eux / Elles leurs chattes (f)
les leurs

A reflexion on the origin of French possessive pronouns

Une réflexion sur l’origine des pronoms possessifs

Personal pronouns are actually made by adding a definite article (le, la or les) before the corresponding tonic possessive adjective : mien, tien, sien… Those are old alternative forms for the possessive adjectives (ma, ta, sa…) that are not used anymore, but they are correct nonetheless. So these two sentences are equivalent :

  • ma voiture (possessive adjective) = la voiture mienne (tonic possessive adjective)

My guess is that the possessive pronouns are not just constructed from these adjectives, but they actually are these adjectives. I’ll explain myself. Do you remember that our initial intention was using a pronoun to avoid the repetition of the noun? Let´s consider this small conversation where we´re going to try and avoid the repetition, but this time, without using a pronoun :

  • Quelle voiture ? – Ma voiture.
    hich car? – My car.

If we can´t use a pronoun, we can theoretically use the old tonic form of the possessive adjective, without changing the meaning :

  • Quelle voiture ? – La voiture mienne.
    hich car? My car.

Here, we can make the elision of the noun, letting the context clarify that we´re speaking of a car  (as we would do with any other adjective) :

  • Quelle voiture ? La voiture jaune. = La jaune.
    Which car? The yellow car. = the yellow one. (lit. The yellow.)
  • Quelle voiture ? La voiture mienne = La mienne.
    Which car? The car mine. = Mine.

And we have our pronoun back !

What’s next?

C’est quoi, la suite ?

Et voilà, we reached the end of our lesson about French possessive pronouns.

Allez, à bientôt !

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