There are several ways to demonstrate possession in French, just as there are in English. Fortunately, they have almost direct matches to grammar in English (with the exception of needing to remember the gender of nouns and pronouns) and so shouldn’t be difficult to learn for English speakers.
Adjectives go before a noun, and for possessive adjectives, they say who something belongs to. For example:
- Not “a shirt”, but “her shirt”
- Not “the toy” but “our toy”
Importantly, adjectives agree with the noun they’re modifying, not the person they belong to. This can be difficult to adjust to when you’re speaking in French, because you need to remember the gender of the noun as you’re conveying your point.
The possessive adjectives
The adjectives are listed below in the order of masculine, feminine, and plural. Note that there are not two different versions of plural for the masculine and feminine genders of the possessive adjectives. Regardless of whether a group of nouns is masculine, feminine, or mixed, they are all referred to by the same plural adjective.
|mon, ma, mes||notre, notre, nos|
|ton, ta, tes||votre, votre, vos|
|son, sa, ses||leur, leur, leurs|
Also note that the first-person singular side (“my”, “your”, and “his/her/its”) follows the exact same pattern. On the plural side, all three forms have the same construction for both the masculine and feminine adjectives.
Differences in sentence construction between French and English
I want to make this point clear, because it’s an important one:
- In English, you would say, “This is his dog”, and you would say “his” even if you knew the dog was female, because the word “his” is referring to whom the dog belongs.
- In French, you would say “Voici sa chienne“, and sa, the feminine possessive, would be used instead of the masculine son because une chienne is feminine and you must match the possessive adjective with the gender of the noun. This also means that in French you lose the information about whether the owner is male or female and must rely on context to tell.
Pronouns replace specific nouns and refer to “mine”, “yours”, etc. in English. Unlike many plurals in French, possessive pronouns actually have four forms: masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural.
Apportez le manteau de Julie (“Carry Julie’s coat”) → Apportez le sien (“Carry hers”)
Trouvez votre stylo et les crayons de cet homme (“Find your pen and this man’s pencils.”) → Trouvez les votres et les siens. (“Find yours and his.”)
Pronoun gender/number agreement
Just as in the adjective section above, pronouns match the gender and number of the objects whose place the pronoun is taking – not the person or thing who owns the object.
That’s why if Damien owns a pool (une piscine), they are la sienne (“his”) and not le sien, and if Andrea owns three boats (les bateaux, masculine), they are les siens (“hers”) and not les siennes.
The possessive pronouns below are in the usual order of masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural.
|le mien, la mienne, les miens, les miennes||le notre, la notre, les notres, les notres|
|le tien, la tienne, les tiens, les tiennes||le votre, la votre, les votres, les votres|
|le sien, la sienne, les siens, les siennes||le leur, la leur, les leurs, les leurs|
Note that first person, second person, and third person singular all follow the same pattern, and nous and vous follow the same pattern, with no difference between masculine plural and feminine plural. Similarly, third person plural is formed with leur, the same word as the adjective “theirs”.
A final possessive structure is with prepositions, which link two nouns together to state both the owner and “ownee” of something. There are two ways to indicate ownership with prepositions in French.
The preposition de in French is used to describe someone in particular something belongs to (this is the difference between saying, “This is his dog” above and “This is William’s dog.” Now we are referring to someone or something in particular, and not a pronoun in place of a specific identifier.
To construct this sentence, the thing being referred to goes first, followed by de, followed by the person or object the thing belongs to. This means the owner + owned item go in reverse order compared to how things are normally said in English (with the “‘s”), but identical to how you would say “the [object] of [the person or other object]”, which might feel awkward to say in English but is perfectly grammatically acceptable. For example:
“The bird’s beak” → “The beak of the bird” → le bec de l’oiseau
“Marie’s friend” → “The friend of Marie” → L’ami de Marie
Also, just as in other sentences in French, de + le will combine to form du in possessive sentences as well. For example:
“The swimmer’s swimsuit” → “The swimsuit of the swimmer” → Le maillot de bains du nageur
Finally, using à in relation to ownership is generally used to make clarifying or emphatic statements about who in particular owns something. It is used with either a stressed pronoun (moi, toi, lui, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, and elles) or a specific object or person. For à, a better English translation than saying something is “yours” is saying it “belongs to” you, which puts greater emphasis on the ownership.
“This t-shirt belongs to me.” → Ce t-shirt est à moi.
“The cell phone belongs to them.” → Le portable est à eux.
“The ring belongs to Frodo.” → La bague est à Frodo.