Possessives

Possessives are used to indicate possessions. In this lesson, we will discuss the different types of possessives, including nouns, determiners, and pronouns.

Possessives in the English Grammar

How Do We Express Possession and Association?

We can use different structures to talk about non-physical relations between nouns, such as relations of possession, association, or indication of type and purpose. Some of the common structures used for this purpose are possessives, noun modifiers, and the preposition 'of'.

Non-physical Relations

The following is a list of common non-physical relations between nouns:

  • Ownership
  • Utilization
  • A part of human body
  • A part of an object
  • Creator and creation
  • Interpretation
  • Indication of material
  • Indication of constituent parts
  • Partitive relations
  • Indication of purpose
  • Indication of type
  • Temporal association
  • Relationships between people
  • Indication of origin
  • Derivation
  • Indication of experiences and feelings
  • Attribution
  • Referring to titles
  • Referring to positions

Showing Ownership

Ownership refers to the right to possess, control, and use a resource or object. There are several ways to show ownership in English. The most common way is to use possessives, including possessive nouns, pronouns, and determiners.

Matt's car was stolen last night.

possessive noun

The car that was stolen last night was his.

possessive pronoun

His car was stolen last night.

possessive determiner

The preposition 'of' can also be used to show ownership, although this structure is less common:

the house of my grandparents

Indicating Utilization

Sometimes a particular object does not belong to someone per se, but they are using it or occupying it for some time. To indicate this kind of utilization, we can use possessive structures:

my room in the hotel

Here, the speaker does not own a hotel room, but is occupying it for some time.

her desk as the office

John's cell in the prison

To Point to a Part of Human Body

We can use possessive forms to refer to parts of a person's body. In this case, possessive forms do not refer to ownership, but to a relation of part and whole.

My hands got frostbit in the cold.

Nick's ribs broke in the accident.

To Point to a Part of an Object

We can use different structures to refer to a part of an object. Noun modifiers and the preposition 'of' are commonly used for this purpose. For example:

car door

noun modifier

coat pocket

noun modifier

the door of the car

with the preposition 'of'

roof of the house

with the preposition 'of'

Possessive nouns can also be used in these cases, but they are less common:

the car's door

To Indicate the Creator

To refer an artifact to its creator or producer, we can use possessive forms as well as the preposition 'of'. For example:

Poe's writing

her painting

the complete plays of Chekhov

To Express Interpretations

To refer to someone's interpretation and understanding of an entity, we can use possessives. For example:

Shakespeare's London, as depicted in his plays, is a vibrant and diverse city filled with characters from all walks of life.

My world is shaped by my experiences, my beliefs, and my interactions with others.

To Indicate Material

To talk about the material that an object is made of, we mostly use noun modifiers.

paper bag

silk dress

silver plate

To Indicate Constituent Parts

To talk about the parts that make up an object, both noun modifiers and the preposition 'of' can be used. For example:

brick wall

pepperoni pizza

necklace of pearls

house of cards

To Act as Partitives

Partitives divide entities into parts or groups. This type of partition is commonly expressed using the preposition 'of'.

a cup of milk

a flock of birds

a pack of chips

To Indicate Purpose

To indicate the function and purpose for which an object is used, we mainly use noun modifiers. For example:

baseball bat

tennis shoes

shopping cart

We can also use the preposition 'for' to refer to the purpose or use of an object:

a bag for the groceries

Warning!

Although using the preposition 'of' in this sentence would not be grammatically incorrect, the meaning of the sentence would be different:

a bag of groceries.

This phrase does not refer to the purpose for which the bag is needed, rather, it shows a container-content relationship between 'bag' and 'groceries'.

To Indicate Type

To refer a person or an object to a specific type of a more generic group, we can use noun modifiers.

truck driver

we can also say 'driver of the truck' but the focus of the phrase would be different and it would not refer to the type of driver.

factory worker

salt water

hand bag

To Show Temporal Association

Both possessive forms and the preposition 'of' can be used to refer events to the time they occurred or appeared.

today's news

the news of the day

this year's winners

top hits of the week

To Show Relationship between People

To show how people relate to each other, including family relations, friendship, work relations, etc. we can use possessive forms.

his daughter

Mary's friend

We can also use the preposition 'of' to show such relationships, but this structure is less common and the same meaning can be expressed using the possessive forms.

father of the bride

we can also say 'bride's father'

leader of the team

or 'team's leader'

To Indicate the Origin of Something

To refer a noun to its origins we can use noun modifiers as well as the preposition 'of'. For example:

sea salt

mountain rocks

smell of roses

To Indicate Derivation

To show that an object, such as a work of art, is derived from or inspired by someone or something, we can use possessive structures as well as the preposition 'of'. For examples:

My mom's portrait was painted with acrylic paint.

His sculpture captured the most elegant aspects of his figure.

Sculpture of the Queen was built from marble.

To Refer to Experiences and Feelings

To refer to physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and other experiences of people, we can use possessive forms.

my dreams

his frustration

Sarah's pain

Jack's blindness

To Show Attribution

To attribute some quality or ability to a person, we can use the preposition 'of'. For example:

a woman of many talents

a man of science

a child of exceptional intelligence

To Refer to Titles

To refer to titles of people or places, we use noun modifiers, for example:

Main Street

Madison Square Garden

Doctor Johnson

King Charles

To Indicate Position

To indicate someone's job position or affiliation to a certain organization, we can use the preposition 'of', as well as noun modifiers. For example:

Mayor of Paris

King of England

CEO of the company

university chancellor

office administrator

We can also use possessive nouns to refer to titles, but this is generally informal and less common:

London's mayor

Company's CEO

Summary

The following table summarizes the relations between nouns and the main linguistic devices for expressing them.

Possessives Noun Modifiers of
Showing Ownership uncommon
Indicating Utilization uncommon
To Point to a Part of Human Body
To Point to a Part of an Object uncommon
To Indicate the Creator
To Express Interpretations
To Indicate Material
To Indicate Constituent Parts
To Act as Partitives
To Indicate Purpose
To Indicate Type
To Show Temporal Association
To Show Relationship between People
To Indicate the Origin of Something
To Indicate Derivation
To Refer to Experiences and Feelings
To Show Attribution
To Refer to Titles
To Indicate Position uncommon

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