If you’re tackling the challenge of speaking French, then getting to grips with how to express ownership is a must. You can do that by using different words such as possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, the verb avoir (to have in English), and the prepositions à or de. Today, we are going to focus on the French possessive adjectives.
In this post, we will explain in detail what are possessive adjectives in French and how they function within a sentence, while exploring useful examples along the way.
Possessive adjectives in French
Possessive adjectives are words used to show to whom or to what something belongs. You already know the English ones: my, your, his, her, its, our, your, and their.
The French possessive adjectives are a bit more numerous: mon, ma, mes, ton, ta, tes, son, sa, ses, notre, nos, votre, vos, leur, and leurs. In French, we call them les adjectifs possessifs (un adjectif possessif in singular form).
Before going further, let’s try to understand the difference between how they are used in English and French.
Possessive adjectives: French vs English
In English, possessive adjectives are used before a noun to show who owns it. For example:
- It’s my book. – C’est mon livre.
This sentence uses the possessive adjective mon (my in French) to state that the book belongs to me. The word order is the same in French: the possessive adjective is followed by the noun.
Moreover, much like all French adjectives, possessive adjectives agree in gender and number with the noun they modify (though there are exceptions we are going to cover in a later section). But while possessive adjectives in English might change depending on the possessor, in French it’s what is possessed that matters. Let’s illustrate this idea with an example:
- Her cake is delicious. – Son gâteau est délicieux.
- His cake is delicious. – Son gâteau est délicieux.
Here, we can see the English sentences use the singular possessive adjectives her or him to reflect the genders of the possessor of the cake. On the other hand, the French sentence uses the French singular masculine possessive adjective son because the thing being possessed (le gâteau) is a masculine noun.
List of the French possessive adjectives
You will find below a summary table of all the French possessive adjectives. It might seem intimidating at first but don’t worry. Once you understand how they work, it becomes easy to use them.
|Owner (subject pronouns)||English possessive adjectives||For singular masculine possessions||For singular feminine possessions||For plural possessions|
|il, elle||his, her, its||son||sa||ses|
Now, let’s put those possessive adjectives in context so you can see how each one functions.
French possessive adjectives for singular possessions
Possessive adjectives in French always agree in number with the possession that follows them.
They also agree in gender, but only the singular subjects have masculine and feminine forms for their possessive adjectives: mon/ma (my), ton/ta (your), and son/sa (his/her/its).
- Have you seen my hat? – Tu as vu mon chapeau ?
- My aunt is coming today. – Ma tante vient aujourd’hui.
- I came across your father yesterday at the station. – J’ai croisé ton père hier à la gare.
- Where is your house? – Où se trouve ta maison?
- His/her coffee is from Italy. – Son café vient d’Italie.
- I have his/her watch with me. – J’ai sa montre avec moi.
For plural subjects with singular possessions, their forms don’t change based on gender: notre (our), votre (your), and leur (their).
- Our car was stolen this morning. – Notre voiture a été volée ce matin.
- How old is your son? – Quel âge a votre fils ?
- It seems like their dog is not here anymore. – On dirait que leur chien n’est plus là.
French possessive adjectives for plural possessions
French possessive adjectives used to refer to plural possessions agree in number, but there is no change based on gender.
- My parents are in Marseilles right now. – Mes parents sont à Marseilles en ce moment.
- I hope your presentations went well. – J’espère que tes présentations se sont bien passées.
- You should listen to his stories. – Tu devrais écouter ses histoires.
- Our children are little pranksters. – Nos enfants sont des petits farceurs.
- I love your drawings. – J’aime vos dessins.
- Leurs questions m’ont fait rire. – Their questions made me laugh.
Note that the French possessive adjectives leur and leurs can also be used as possessive pronouns. While both indicate ownership, possessive adjectives (such as my, your, her) are always followed by noun which is possessed, whereas possessive pronouns (such as mine, yours, hers) replace the adjective and possession altogether.
The exception to the rule: Mon, Ton, Son before vowels
Since we are talking about French grammar here, you can imagine there is an exception to the rule!
Although we explained that mon/ma, ton/ta, and son/sa agree in gender with the following noun, these French possessive adjectives will automatically take on the masculine form if they are followed by a feminine noun starting with a vowel. This is done entirely for pronunciation purposes. This means that ma will become mon, ta will become ton, and sa will become son.
- My (female) friend is late. – Mon amie est en retard.
- Where did you buy your scarf? It’s so pretty! – Où as-tu acheté ton écharpe ? Ell est tellement jolie!
- His idea is original. – Son idée est originale.
As we’ll see in the next section, this rule on using mon, ton, and son applies before other words starting with a vowel too.
Structuring a sentence with French possessive adjectives
Using French possessive adjectives in a sentence is simple. You first identify the gender of the possession which is being referred to, then you choose the correct adjective to match it.
Just like in English, the possessive adjective is typically placed before the possessed noun. However, note that you can also have longer structures such as possessive adjective + qualifying adjective + noun, or possessive adjective + superlative adjective + noun. Of course, the added adjectives also need to agree with the noun in gender and number.
- Her charming smile makes me crazy. – Son charmant sourire me rend fou.
- Those are my most beautiful memories. – Ce sont mes plus beaux souvenirs.
Remember the last rule we saw on using the masculine possessive adjectives before feminine nouns that start with vowels? Well, this rule always applies when the word following the possessive adjective starts with a vowel, even if it’s another adjective. Thus, even if the noun is feminine and starts with a consonant, the possessive adjectives ma, ta, and sa will become masculine when they’re immediately followed by a word starting with a vowel.
- I hired you for your excellent adaptability. – Je t’ai embauché pour ton excellente capacité d’adaptation.
- His surprising recipe seduced the jury. – Son étonnante recette a séduit le jury.
Listing nouns with possessive adjectives in French requires a different structure compared to English. While you usually have the option of using just one possessive adjective for the whole list in English, French speakers add one possessive adjective for each noun.
- My uncle, aunt, and cousins went back to Australia. – Mon oncle, ma tante et mes cousins sont rentrés en Australie.
- You should put your money and valuables in this locker. – Tu devrais mettre ton argent et tes objects de valeur dans ce casier.
As you can see, using adjectives possessive in French is not that difficult. Knowing when and how to use each one is key! Here are the main points to remember:
- French possessive adjectives precede the noun which is possessed.
- They take different forms depending on the number of possessions (singular or plural), and sometimes on the gender of the possession (as opposed to the gender of the possessor like in English).
Once you know the gender and number of the noun you are talking about, you can easily guess the correct possessive adjective that goes with it while keeping in mind that there is an exception when my, your, and his/her/its are followed by a word which starts with a vowel.
After reading this post, you should be able to use French possessive adjectives in daily conversations. And why not start by calling the people you love using sweet French terms of endearment like mon amour or ma chérie? French is the language of love after all!