Ownership and Agreement: Possessive Adjectives in Spanish

Ownership and Agreement Possessive Adjectives in Spanish

Learning how to speak a new language comes with a mountain of challenges and a seemingly never ending list of vocabulary and grammar to learn. One of the most important things to master when attempting even just basic fluency in Spanish are the possessive adjectives. What are possessive adjectives? Quite simply, they are used to indicate ownership and to talk about what belongs to whom. In English these are words like “my”, “yours” “his” or “hers”. Spanish Possessive adjectives follow a very similar structure to English possessive adjectives, with some exceptions, of course.

In the Spanish language there are five different possessive adjectives depending on who possesses the noun in question. The five possessive adjectives are as follows: mi, tu, su, nuestro and vuestro. Mi  means “my”, for example if you wanted to say “my bag” you would say “mi bolsa”. Tu means “your”, so “your hand” would be “tu mano”. These first two possessive adjectives are relatively simple, it’s when we reach the word su that things get complicated. Su actually has four meanings depending on the context of the phrase, and can mean “his”, “her”, “their” and a more formal variation of “your”. With this in mind, we can see that “su copa” could mean “her cup”, “his cup”, “their cup” or even “your cup” (formally), and understanding what is being communicated requires a solid understanding of the overall context of the phrase. Vuestro can also mean “your” when you are speaking in the plural, but is more commonly used in Castilian Spain (Spanish spoken in Spain) and avoided in Latin American Spanish. Finally, nuestro means “our”, for example “nuestro auto” means “our car”.

Agreement  in Number and Gender

The first thing to consider when using a possessive adjective is, of course, who owns the noun to which you are referring. Then you can choose the appropriate term: mi, tu, su, nuestro or vuestro (my, your, their/his/her, our and your plural). For example, if I was talking about my own brother, I would say “mi hermano”, and if I was talking about your brother I would say “tu hermano”.

Using possessive adjectives correctly, however, does not simply end here. When constructing a sentence in Spanish, it is important that all of the adjectives are in agreement with the nouns they are modifying. What does it mean to be in agreement? Well if the noun in question is plural, then the possessive adjective changes to reflect that. Both must also be in agreement in terms of gender. This can be a difficult concept for native English speakers attempting to learn Spanish as the English language does not employ gendered nouns If the Spanish noun is feminine, the possessive adjective must be feminine as well, and if the noun is masculine, then the possessive adjective must also reflect this.

The first three possessive adjectives listed above, mi, tu and su, only have two forms. This means that the only alterations undertaken by these three forms are  to adjust them in order to agree with number. Regardless of the gender of the noun, they will still stay the same. The corresponding plural forms of these possessive adjectives are as follows:

Mi becomes Mis

Tu becomes Tus

Su becomes Sus

For example, if you wanted to say “my plate” you would say “mi plato”, and if you wanted to say “my plates” you would use the plural form and say “mis platos”. If you wanted to talk about “your sister” you would say “tu hermana”, and if you were referring to multiple sisters, you would say “tus hermanas”. The same structure applies for su, where his/her/their cat is “su gato” and “sus gatos” if there are more than one cat.

Using nuestro and vuestro are where things can get a little more complicated. Both nuestro and vuestro both have to agree not only in number, but in gender as well. For example, if I was talking about our (masculine) cousin, I would use the singular masculine form which would be “nuestro primo”. If there were more than one cousin, then I would use the masculine plural form, “nuestros primos”. If we are referring to one female cousin, then you would use the feminine singular form, “nuestra prima”,  and if there were more than one of female cousin, you would say “nuestras primas”. Vuestro follows the same principal, vuestro, vuestros, vuestra and vuestras.

Short-form and Long-form possessive Adjectives

The above discussion refers to short-form possessive adjectives, which are the most common, and as previously mentioned, are used to express ownership of a noun. In the Spanish language there is also something called long-form possessive adjectives. These are not used as often, but are still important to understand. The long-form possessive adjective is used to emphasize ownership in contrast with another owner, or to make explicit a relationship of a personal manner. These must also agree with the noun in question in both number and gender. These are as follows:

Mío, mía, míos and mías. (my)

Tuyo, tuya, tuyos and tuyas (your)

Suyo, suya, suyos and suya (his/hers/yours)

Nuestro, nuestra, nuestros and nuestras (our)

Vuestro, vuestra, vuestros and vuestras (theirs, yours formal)

To use the long-form possessive adjective, you place it after the noun in question. For example: My book (short-form) is “mi libro”, and my book (long-form) is el libro mío.

As you can see, there are many things to consider when choosing the appropriate possessive adjective, and there is plenty of margin for error. With so many aspects to consider, it’s evident how important it is to choose a reputable professional Spanish translation and copy editing service for any translation needs. Leaving your translations up to the Spanish language professionals is the only way to guarantee your messages are being conveyed clearly, correctly and concisely, and are that the intended message is being properly construed to the target audience.