The possessive adjectives in Spanish, the same as in English, are used to determine who owns or is in possession of something.
My hat => Mi sombrero
Your hat => Tu sombrero
However, unlike English, in Spanish, there are two types of possessive adjectives: short-term that are used before noun and long-term adjectives that are used after the noun. Let’s understand first the short-term type.
Short-term possessive adjectives in Spanish.
There are five short-term possessive adjectives in Spanish.
|Mi / Mis||My|
|Tu / Tus||Your|
|Su / Sus||His / Her / Its / Their / Your|
|Nuestra / Nuestro / Nuestras /Nuestros||Our|
|Vuestro / Vuestra / Vuestros / Vuestras||Your|
The possessive adjectives have different forms which must always agree with the noun they modify in gender and number.
It is much simpler in practice, because only two out of five existing possessive adjectives in Spanish have both feminine and masculine form “nosotros“ and “vosotros”. The other three passive adjectives (mi, tu, su) have only two forms, singular and plural.
It is important to remember that they always agree with the thing/object, that they possess but not the possessor itself.
His house => Su Casa.
Her house => Su Casa.
Their house => Su Casa.
Even though the form of the possessor has changed in number and gender, the possessive adjective form Su remained agreed to the noun “Casa”.
Now let’s try to change the forms of the modified nouns.
My apple => Mi manzana
My apples => Mis manzanas
Your bag => Tu bolsa
Your bags => Tus bolsas
Her book => Su libro
Her books => Sus libros
As you already know, these three forms have only two forms, singular and plural. Now let’s see how “nosotros” and “vosotros” change depending on the noun.
|Our house => Nuestra casa||Our dog => Nuestro perro|
|Our houses => Nuestras casas||Our dogs => Nuestros perros|
|Your pen => Vuestra pluma||Your book => Vuestro libro|
|Your pens => Vuestras plumas||Your books => Vuestros libros|
*Your is plural or familiar in this example
Note, that vuestro, the same as vosotros is used primarily in Spain. Moreover, In Latin American country they will use the possessive adjective Su instead.
How to avoid confusion with Su
As you can imagine, sometimes Su or Sus might be a bit vague, since it can mean his, her, its, their, your (formal). If you would like to be specific about who is a possessor, you can use de, followed by a prepositional pronoun.
Esta es su casa => This is her/his/their/it’s/your house.
Esta es la casa de ella => This is her house
Esta es la casa de èl => This is his house
Esta es la casa de usted => This is your house
Esta es la casa de ellos => This is their house
When to avoid using possessive adjectives?
Most of the time, possessive adjectives in Spanish are used the same way as in English. However, in some cases – especially speaking about body parts, clothes or any items which are closely associated with the individual – the Spanish speakers use the definite articles (el, la, los or las) instead of possessive adjectives.
Anna se lava el pelo
Anna is washing her hair
Ricardo se rompió la pierna cuando tenía diez años
Miguel broke his leg when he was ten
Alan no se lavó las manos
Allen didn’t wash his hands
Primarily, you shouldn’t use possessive adjectives in Spanish if there are reflexive verbs in the sentence. It means that the action is already “going back” to the noun; there is no need for the adjective anymore.
Repetition of possessive adjectives
In Spanish, each possessive adjective can refer only to one noun, which it modifies, except if the various nouns refer to the same objects or people.
Son mis padres y mejores amigos => They are my parents and best friends.
In this example, parents and best friends are the same people.
Son mis padres y mis mejores amigos => They are my parents and best friends.
Here the parents and the best friends are different people.
In Spanish, you will need to use the possessive adjective for each noun, which you need to modify.
My cats and dogs => Mis gatos y mis perros.
Difference between forms of Your
There are eight forms of Your in Spanish possessive adjectives, and they are not interchangeable. It might seem complicated at the beginning, but the forms occurs due to the distinction between gender and the number of the noun.
The main thing to remember here is that the possessives classify as familiar and formal, the same as pronoun “you” in Spanish. Tu/Tus corresponds with the pronoun tú. Su/Sus corresponds with the pronoun usted. And all forms of vuestro correspond with vosotros.
So if you are talking with your friend about her bag, you can say:
Tu bolsa es bonita.
But if you are talking with a stranger, you should say:
Su bolsa es Bonita.
Confusion with Su
Since Su(s) means so many things (His/Her/Its/Their/Your), it is common to get confused with understanding who owns the object. To avoid that you can clarify the identity of possessor by using preposition de + pronoun.
Su crítica es imposible – His/Her criticism is impossible
¿La crítica de quién? – Whose criticism?
La crítica de ella – Her criticism
Es su libro – It’s his/her/its/their/your book
In this example, you can’t understand whose book it is. You can clarify in one of the following ways:
Es el libro de él – It’s his book
Es el libro de ella – It’s her book
Es el libro de ellas – It’s their book ( a group of women)
Es el libro de ustedes – It’s your book (Formal, plural)
Long term possessive adjectives
Unlike English, there are two forms of possessive adjectives in Spanish. The short-term adjectives are used before the noun, and the long-term adjectives are used after the noun. They both have to match the noun in gender and the number.
Le’s see examples of long-term possessive adjectives usage:
Mine – Mío, mía, míos, mías.
Esta cama es mía – This bed is mine
Your/ of yours (Familiar) – Tuyo, tuya, tuyos, tuyas
Prefiero el asiento tuyo – I prefer your seat
Your(Formal), its, her, his, theirs, of yours, of his, of her – Suyo, suya, suyos, suyas
El perro suyo – Her/his/their dog
Ours, of ours – Nuestro, nuestra, nuestros, nuestras
Los libros son nuestros – The books are ours
Yours, of yours (familiar, plural) – vuestro, vuestra, vuestros, vuestras
¿Dónde están los amigos vuestros? – Where are your friends? Where are the friends of yours?
As you can see the forms of nuestro and vuestro are the same as the short-term adjectives. The only difference is where you put them, before or after the noun.
The same as with short-term possessive adjectives the long-term adjectives change forms according to the noun that they modify and not the person who owns the object.
Es una amiga mía – She is a friend of mine
Es un amigo mío – He is a friend of mine
Son unos amigos mios – They are friends of mine (masculine)
Son unas amigas mios – They are friends of mine (feminine)
Key points of the article
- The possessive adjectives are used to determine who owns or in possession of something.
- The possessive adjectives must always agree with the noun they modify in gender and number.
- There are two types of possessive adjectives in Spanish: short-term that are used before noun and long-term that are used after the noun.
- The possessive Su/Sus can have many forms consequently you need to rely on a context when translating.
Check out other articles as well. Do you know when to use direct object pronouns in Spanish?