Possessive pronouns

The forms of possessive pronouns vary with person and number. In English, possessive pronouns (except his and its) also have different forms depending on whether they function as determiners in a noun phrase or constitute a noun phrase on their own, i.e. function as "true" pronouns.

Determiner

Pronoun

Singular

1st person 

me

mine

2nd person 

your 

yours

3rd person 

his

his

her

hers

its

--

Plural

1st person

our

ours

2nd person 

your 

yours

3rd person 

their 

theirs

The “double” genitive

Possessive pronouns in English occur in prepositional phrases headed by of in examples like the following.

(1) Bill is a good friend of mine.  (en god vän till mig)

(2) Mary is a cousin of ours.  (en kusin till oss/vår kusin)

(3) Jane met an old friend of hers.  (en av sina gamla vänner)


The most common corresponding Swedish construction has a personal pronoun complementing the preposition till, as in the first two examples. Typically, the noun phrase containing the of-phrase has an indefinite determiner (the indefinite article, an indefinite pronoun, a numeral, etc.), but definite determiners also occur, as in (4) and (5), each of which contains an additional postmodifier in the form of a relative clause:

(4) That colleague of his that he was talking about is now dead.

(5) The only friend of hers that I have met is Laura

The construction is often referred to as the double genitive, although there is really only one element that is genitive or possessive in form. The reason the term is used is that the possessive pronoun occurs inside an of-phrase, which is used to encode relations of the same type as the genitive, but which is not in itself a genitive form. The same construction is used with a full genitive noun phrase instead of a possessive pronoun.

(6) Jim is an old friend of my father’s (of my father).

(7) Did you see that painting of Picasso’s? (of Picasso)

As these examples indicate, the genitive is not obligatory. One reason to use the double genitive is to avoid the potential ambiguity of the non-genitive version (the painting was made by Picasso or depicts Picasso). A more common alternative is to use the preposition by instead of of in cases where the prepositional complement carries a subject/agent role (a painting by Picasso).

A Swedish perspective: Forms of possessive pronouns (click to expand/contract)

In English, possessive pronouns (except his and its) have different forms depending on whether they function as determiners in a noun phrase or constitute a noun phrase on their own, i.e. function as bona fide pronouns.

In Swedish, there is no such distinction in form. On the other hand, most Swedish possessive pronouns agree in number and gender with the possessed element (min bil, mitt hus, mina bilar, mina hus).

In addition, Swedish has a special form in the third person singular and plural (sin, sitt, sina) which is reminiscent in form of the reflexive pronoun sig, and which is used only as a determiner. It is similar to the reflexive in being used with antecedents in subject position.

(1a) Kalle tog med sig sin syster till festen.

(1b) Kalle brought his sister to the party.) 


A Swedish perspective: Possessive pronoun or definite article? (click to expand/contract)

In most cases English and Swedish use possessive pronouns the same way, to indicate possession and other related relations. However, English consistently uses possessive pronouns when the possessed element denotes something which is intimately connected with the possessor. This includes humans’ body parts, states of mind, items of clothing, and, for non-human possessors, items that are associated with the possessor in different ways, e.g. as parts of it. In Swedish, the definite article is most natural in these cases, as illustrated in the following examples:

(1) Bill broke his leg while skiing. (bröt benet)

(2) Mary lost her mind when her house burnt down. (förlorade förståndet)

(3) James bites his fingernails. (biter på naglarna)

(4) The bus hit the bridge and lost its roof. (taket)

In cases like these, where the possessor is related to the subject of an active clause and the possessed element functions as the object, the use of the possessive pronoun is practically obligatory.

When the possessed element functions as the complement of a preposition, there are sometimes alternatives with the definite article, as in the following examples, but the possessive pronoun is common.

(5) He put his wallet back in his pocket. (Han stoppade tillbaka plånboken i fickan)

(6) I think she had something on her mind. (någonting på hjärtat)

(7) The suspect had a scar on his/the cheek. (på kinden)

English regularly uses the definite article rather than the possessive pronoun in two cases:

A) When the possessor functions as the object of a clause:

(7) The police shot the suspect in the leg.

(8) Mary took her son by the hand and crossed the street.

(9) Dean pounded Stan on the back and dragged him out.

B) When the possessor functions as the subject of a passive clause

(10) The suspect was shot in the leg.

(11) Bill was hit in the head by a bullet.

(12) Mr Jones had been kicked in the head by a mule.

To read about the passive follow this link:


A Swedish perspective: Co-ordinated possessive pronouns (click to expand/contract)

In Swedish possessive pronouns can be co-ordinated (din och min bil). English prefers to co-ordinate a noun phrase containing a possessive determiner and a possessive pronoun, as in the following examples:

(1) His America and mine differ a lot. (hans och mitt Amerika)

(5) Both his name and hers were written in blood on the wall. (hans och hennes namn)