Possessive Adjectives Shouldn’t Exist – At Least Not in High School.

Ok, Grammar Nazis, calm down and let me explain.

First, for those of you who don’t know, school systems in the U.S. now teach that certain words are called possessive adjectives: my, your, his, her, its, our, and their. When you learned about them growing up, they probably called them possessive pronouns. That makes sense to me. A pronoun takes the place of a noun; therefore, a possessive pronoun takes the place of a possessive noun.

Apparently, there are those that feel this distinction isn’t good enough.

Whoever these people are, they decided that those words should be called possessive adjectives. The justification for that is the fact that the words show possession and act as adjectives. Possessive pronouns are only the pronouns that show possession and stand alone (mine, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs). “His” and “its” may look the same, but “possessive pronoun” refers to when they stand alone and do not modify a word right after them – “that cat is his” not “that is his cat.”

Am I the only one, or does anyone else think that is an unnecessary distinction?

Yes, the possessive adjectives act as adjectives. In other words, they modify nouns or phrases that act like nouns. Possessive nouns also modify nouns. Tim’s bike is the red one. Funny, you can also word that, “The red bike is Tim’s.” “Tim’s” is still modifying “bike.” That means it’s acting as an adjective.

Wait, if acting as an adjective and showing possession makes a pronoun a possessive adjective, then wouldn’t all possessive pronouns be called possessive adjectives?

The cottage is ours.

Can you replace “ours” with any single word that isn’t acting as an adjective and make a correct sentence?

The cottage is stone. Nope, that is not a full sentence, so a noun doesn’t work. It would have to be, “The cottage is made of stone.”

The cottage is stylishly. It’s stylishly what? Adverbs clearly won’t work.

The cottage is of. Nope.

The cottage is and. Definitely not.

The cottage is he. The cottage is Marsha. Technically, those two are correct, but they make absolutely no sense.

For “ours” to be acting as anything but a modifier, it has to be an individual, which doesn’t go with the idea of possession. It’s much less complex and confusing to assume that “ours” is modifying “cottage.”

The cottage is gray.

Use a modifier, and the sentence works easily and logically.

If “ours” is acting as an adjective, then all possessive pronouns should be called possessive adjectives. Actually, “Tim’s” was acting as an adjective, too, so possessive nouns should be called possessive adjectives, as well. Either call every possessive word that acts as an adjective a possessive adjective, or get rid of the title altogether. Personally, I think that since every possessive word acts as an adjective, calling them possessive adjectives is redundant.

Just call them possessive pronouns. They’re pronouns that show possession – the same as possessive nouns are nouns that show possession. Stop confusing students with needless semantics. Save the fastidious distinctions for people who study linguistics in college.

English is complicated enough. Why deliberately make it worse?

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