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Spanish possessive adjectives

Berges Institute • Aug 2, 2023 • 6 minutes
Updated Aug 3, 2023
Spanish possessive adjectives
The Graf Method for Spanish Language

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In this volume, we discuss the alphabet, definite and indefinite articles, and verbs ser and estar, among other topics.

An adjective is a word that describes a noun. In red house, red is the adjective, and house is the noun. In big car, big is the adjective, and car is the noun. In Spanish, they tend to go after the noun: casa roja, coche grande.

Being red or being big are physical characteristics, but adjectives can describe nouns in different manners. Numbers, for example, are adjectives as well when they go with a noun: two chairs, dos sillas. Numbers in Spanish go before the noun, just like in English.

Possessive adjectives

If I say my house or my car, the adjective my is describing the noun in a special way. It's telling the listener that the house or the car belongs to me. Possessive adjectives don't always express possession or ownership. They can also express relations, as in my friend or my sister.

Natural laws

Humans have always had a tendency to claim physical things as their own, and we've always had relationships with other humans, either by family or by social ties. Every language has a way to express this relationship between a person and a physical thing or between a person and another person.

Expressing possessions or relationships

In English, for example, a guy named John could say something like "this is a car that belongs to John" when talking about his own car. We would understand it, but it would be a little awkward. He could also say "this is the brother of John", when talking about his own brother. It would be easier if he just said "this is my car" or "this is my brother". Using the first-person singular possessive adjective "my" already tells us that the thing or the person belongs or is related to the person uttering it (John, in this case).

Similarly, if John from the previous example was talking to a guy named Peter, he could refer to Peter's brother as "the brother of Peter", but, again, it would be awkward. Since John is talking to Peter, it would be way better if he just said "your brother". Your is a second-person possessive adjective.

If John and Peter were talking about Sara's brother, they could refer to him as "her brother". Her is a third-person singular possessive adjective.

The ones we are missing would be our (first-person plural) and their (third-person plural). In English, your can be singular (as in "the car of you, one person") or plural (as in "the car of you all").

Spanish possessive adjectives

In Spanish, we have one possessive adjective for each grammatical person. They go before the noun, like in English. Unlike in English, we'll have to modify them to match the number of objects possessed or people we are related to. If we are talking about one car, we'll say mi coche. If we are talking about more than one car, we'll say mis coches. If we are talking about one brother, we'll say mi hermano. If we are talking about more than one, mis hermanos.

For one thing possessed, or a relationship with one person, these are the possessive adjectives in Spanish:

First-Person Singular: Mi (My)
Second-Person Singular: Tu (Your, singular)
Third-Person Singular: Su (His / Her)
First-Person Plural: Nuestro / Nuestra (Our)
Second Person Plural: Vuestro / Vuestra (Your, plural)
Third Person Plural: Su (Their)

For more than one thing possessed, or a relationship with more than one person, these are the possessive adjectives in Spanish:

First-Person Singular: Mis (My)
Second-Person Singular: Tus (Your, singular)
Third-Person Singular: Sus (His / Her)
First-Person Plural: Nuestros / Nuestras (Our)
Second Person Plural: Vuestros / Vuestras (Your, plural)
Third Person Plural: Sus (Their)

Formal and informal second person

When we are talking to someone and we want to address that person formally, we use the pronoun usted instead of tú. If we happen to use a possessive adjective, we'll have to use the third-person singular one (su) instead of the second-person singular one (tu). It will have a second-person meaning, though.

Usted vive en Queens, pero su hermano vive en Brooklyn. (You live in Queens but your brother lives in Brooklyn.)

The informal version would be:

Tú vives en Queens, pero tu hermano vive en Brooklyn.

If we are talking to a group of people, in Spain, the same thing will happen. We'll use ustedes instead of vosotros. If we happen to use a possessive adjective, we'll have to use the third-person plural one (su, same as the singular one) instead of the second-person plural one (vuestros). Again, it will have a second-person meaning.

Ustedes viven en Queens, pero su hermano vive en Brooklyn. (You all live in Queens but your brother lives in Brooklyn.)

The informal version would be:

Vosotros vivís en Queens, pero vuestro hermano vive en Brooklyn.

In Latin America, for plural, people only use ustedes, which is not formal, like in Spain, since it's the only second-person plural pronoun available. If we use a possessive adjective with a group of people in Latin America, su is the only one available.

This makes su a little ambiguous, since it can mean his, her, their, your for one person, and your for more than one person. We usually know which one it is by the context.

How to pronounce the Spanish possessive adjectives

Mi: [mi]

Mis: [mis]

Tu: [t̪u]

Tus: [t̪us]

Su: [su]

Sus: [sus]

Nuestro: [ˈnwes.t̪ɾo]

Nuestra: [ˈnwes.t̪ɾa]

Nuestros: [ˈnwes.t̪ɾos]

Nuestras: [ˈnwes.t̪ɾas]

Vuestro: [ˈbwes.t̪ɾo]

Vuestra: [ˈbwes.t̪ɾa]

Vuestros: [ˈbwes.t̪ɾos]

Vuestras: [ˈbwes.t̪ɾas]

Here is Dan pronouncing all of them:

How to use Spanish possessive adjectives in a sentence

Here are some rules that are specific to the possessive adjectives in Spanish:

  1. Spanish possessive adjectives always go before the noun: mi casa, su hermano, nuestro coche.
  2. Like in English, they replace the article, so they cannot be use along with one: the house vs. my house. La casa vs. mi casa.
  3. They have to agree in number with the thing possessed or the person we're related to: mi casa, mis zapatos, su hermano, sus tías.
  4. The first- and second-person plural ones also have to agree in gender: nuestro padre, nuestras hermanas, vuestra familia.

A noun that's accompanied by an adjective (of any type) can always be in the subject position, doing the action of the verb. Here are some examples using possessive adjectives:

Mi hermano vive en Sevilla. (My brother lives in Sevilla.)

Nuestro gato es muy inteligente. (Our cat is very intelligent.)

Su coche es muy rápido. (His/her/your car is very fast.)

It can also be in the object position. In this case, we have to remember that if we are talking about a person or a pet, we need to add the personal A.

Llamé a tu hermano. (I called your brother.)

Adoptamos a nuestro gato el año pasado. (We adopted our cat last year.)

Compró su coche en Francia. (He/she/you bought his/her/your car in France.)

A word of caution

A lot of students make the mistake of conjugating the verb in the person the possessive adjective is matched with. For example, people using mi might try to conjugate ser in the first person (soy) since mi is a first-person possessive article. That would be incorrect. If we want to say my cat is black, even though my, or mi, in Spanish, is a first-person possessive adjective (the cat belongs to me), the subject of the sentence is the cat, which is a third-person concept. We'll have to say:

Mi gato es negro. (My cat is black.)

Here are more examples, all of them using the third-person conjugation of the verb, regardless who the "possessor" is:

Nuestro coche es rojo. (Our car is red.)

Mi hermana vive en Londres. (Mi sister lives in London.)

Tus zapatos son muy bonitos. (Your shoes are very beautiful.)

Expressing possession the long way

Sometimes, instead of using a third-person possessive adjective, we want to say the person's name to clarify:

His car.

Whose car?

John's car.

In Spanish, we can't do 's. We'll have to say "the car of John".

Su coche.

¿El coche de quién?

El coche de John.

How to memorize the Spanish possessive adjectives

Here are some ideas:

  1. Write them down on a piece of paper. Do it again two or three more times on fresh pieces of paper. Try to do it one more time from memory.
  2. Say them out loud, in order, three or four times. Repeat the process a couple hours later. Keep doing this until you can recall them easily.
  3. Create flashcards, and look at them randomly throughout the day until you can remember them without looking at the cards.
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