What's Mine is Mine: Possessive Adjectives and Pronouns in Spanish
This article will give you detailed insight into the nature and peculiarities of Spanish possessive adjective and pronouns, plus the grammar rules of their use and alternative possessive structures.
Possessive Adjectives in Spanish
Possessive adjectives are the words that are related to personal pronouns and are used to indicate the ownership. Below you will find the complete list of Spanish possessive adjectives:
Mi, tu, and su
First and second person singular (yo, tú) plus third person pronouns, both singular and plural, (él, ella, usted, ellos, ellas, Ustedes) do not have separate masculine or feminine forms of possessive adjectives. In other words, you don’t have to match the gender of these possessive adjectives to the gender of the noun they modify! Isn’t that great? Let’s consider some examples:
- el coche/los coches – mi coche/mis coches – my car/my cars
- la manzana/las manzanas – mi manzana/mis manzanas – my apple/my apples
- el libro/los libros – tu libro/tus libros – your book/your books
- la falda/las faldas – tu falda/tus faldas – your skirt/your skirts
- el hermano/los hermanos – su hermano/sus hermanos – his, her, your brother/his, her, your brothers
- la hermana/ las hermanas – su hermana/sus hermanas – his, her, your sister/his, her, your sisters
Nuestro and vuestro
First and second person plural pronouns (nosotros and vosotros), however, do have separate masculine and feminine adjective forms that you have to match to the gender of the noun they modify. E.g.:
- el amigo/los amigos – nuestro amigo/nuestros amigos – our friend/our friends
- la canción/las canciones – nuestra canción/nuestras canciones – our song/our songs
- el escritorio/ los escritorios – vuestro escritorio/vuestros escritorios – your desk/your desks
- la zanahoria/las zanahorias – vuestra zanahoria/vuestras zanahorias – your carrot/your carrots
Tricky Possessive Cases
However, the possessive adjectives that have no masculine or feminine forms are at the same time a bit tricky. Here come the tricks:
In English, you can address a person with the help of the pronoun you, regardless of whether the situation is formal or not. In Spanish, you have to choose tú for informal situations and usted for formal ones. Consequently, you have to match the possessive adjective to the formal or informal pronoun as well. E.g.:
- ¿Puedo usar tu pluma?
- May I use your pen? (asking a person you would address with the help of tú)
- ¿Puedo usar su pluma?
- May I use your pen? (asking a person you would address with the help of usted or ustedes)
Third person singular and plural possessive adjectives do not always make it clear which person whom exactly they are referred to. Su can be translated as his, her, your, or their. E.g.:
Santiago está esperando a su hermana.
- Santiago is waiting for his sister.
- Santiago is waiting for her sister.
- Santiago is waiting for your sister (formal, singular)
- Santiago is waiting for your sister (formal, plural)
- Santiago is waiting for their sister.
The way out of the homonymy dead-end is to rely on a prepositional possessive structure:
- Santiago está esperando a la hermana de él.
- Santiago is waiting for his sister.
- Martina está buscando el otro zapato de ella.
- Martina is looking for her other boot.
- Matías está cantando la canción de usted.
- Matias is singing your song. (formal you)
You can also rely on the same structure to avoid using possessive adjectives altogether and refer to a person by their name. E.g.:
- Santiago está esperando a la hermana de Gabriela.
- Santiago is waiting for Gabriela’s sister.
Personal pronoun tú and its possessive counterpart tu have an identical pronunciation. Be sure that you add an accent above the vowel in writing to differentiate between the two words.
Where to Place a Possessive Adjective
Remember: Spanish possessive adjectives always precede the noun they modify, regardless of whether it is also modified by other adjectives or not.
- Mi amiga es divertida.
- My friend is amusing.
- Mi amiga nueva es divertida.
- My new friend is amusing.
Another thing is that, unlike in English, Spanish possessive adjectives do not modify the words that denote body parts or clothes. A definite article is used to serve this purpose. If there is an article, no possessive pronoun is required.
- Tengo el pelo corto y rubio.
- My hair is short and blond.
- ¿Por qué tengo los ojos cansados?
- Why are my eyes tired?
Possessive Pronouns in Spanish
If you want to place an emphasis on the fact of possession, use possessive pronouns. These are the words that have been derived from the same personal pronouns, only they have a long form (this is why they are sometimes called long-form possessive adjectives) and a different set of usage rules, plus they are used less frequently. Here’s the list:
Possessive pronouns are placed after the noun they modify, and the noun itself is usually preceded by an article or a demonstrative pronoun. E.g.:
- ¿Dónde es ese abrigo suyo?
- Where is that coat of hers?
- Este es tu dinero y aquel es el dinero mío.
- This is your money and that is mine.
And now, we're all set for a new short quiz!