French Possessive Adjectives: Indicating to Whom or What Something Belongs

french possessive adjectivesA possessive adjective is used instead of an article when you want to show that something belongs to someone or something else. The way that possessive adjectives are used in French is similar to the way we use them in English, but the French language has many more possessives than the English language, which can make them more difficult to learn.

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Different Possessive Forms of French

As you learn French, you will encounter various possessive forms of words. The reason for this is that there are far more instances in which the possessive form changes in French.

When using the possessive form, you may have to use a different word based on someone’s gender, the owner of the object, and the number of the objects that are possessed. Even the first letter of the object in question that is possessed by a person can have an effect on the possessive form of a word.

Exploring the Difference in Possessive Forms of French 

There’s a strong emphasis on gender when it comes to French. Using terms such as his father and her father would involve changing the first word in the phrase, but look at the French translation.

  • His father = Son pere
  • Her father = Son pere

Notice how the words are exactly the same; even the proceeding possessive adjective, son, doesn’t change despite the fact we are talking about two different people of different gender.

In French, it isn’t the person that the word is adjusted to, but the word that is being possessed. For example, below you will see the translation of the phrases “his father” and “his mother”.

  • His father = Son pere
  • His mother = Sa mere

Now this is where things get interesting. Before the words Son worked when talking about two different people, but now that we are discussing the possessive form of two different type, a mother and a father, the possessive form of the word has to change.

Remember that the word changes based on the noun in question. When the noun is masculine, such as pere, then you have to use the masculine version of his/her, which is son. When the noun is feminine, such as mere, then you would have to use the feminine version of his/her, which in this case would be sa.

Situations Where You Use Possessive Adjectives 

The possessive form isn’t used the same way that you may use it in English. For example, when you are describing two nouns or more in French, you have to use a possessive adjective before each one:

  • Son frère et sa sœur (his brother and sister or literally his brother and his sister)
  • Ma tante et mon oncle (my aunt and uncle or, in the literal form, my aunt and my uncle).

Key differences like these are important to note when speaking and writing in a different language.

Situations Where You Will Almost Never Use Possessive Adjectives 

Surprisingly enough, there are situations where you may find yourself casually using possessive adjectives, but they aren’t used in French. For example, it’s a common thing to say that your arm hurts or your leg itches, but in French you never use possessive adjectives to refer to your body parts at any given point and time.

In fact, technically there is no way to say “my leg” or “my hair” in French; the French language uses completely different verbs for these situations.

Below are two examples.

  • Je me suis casse` la jambe: I broke my leg (literally means that I broke the leg of myself).
  • Il se lave les cheveux: He’s washing his hair (literally means that he is washing the hair of himself).

A Detailed List of French Possessive Adjectives

English

Masculine

Feminine

Before vowel

Plural

mymonmamonmes
your (sing., fam.)tontatontes
his, her, itssonsasonses
ournotrenotrenotrenos
your (plur., form)votrevotrevotrevos
theirleurleurleurleurs

Notice how there is no French version of “its” in this list. That’s because in French, “its” doesn’t exist. Due to the fact that a possessive adjective relates to a noun, and every noun has a specific gender, there is no reason why the word “its”, which is gender-neutral, should be used. 

Understanding the Importance of Context 

Since the same words can be used based on the noun in a sentence and not the subject, there is a strong emphasis on context when you’re using French possessive adjectives. A man or a woman could say mon livre, and it could both mean my book. This can get confusing, which is why it is important to observe the context surrounding the phrase or consider the context of what you’re saying, before you begin to use a possessive adjective.

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Learning French

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