To talk about possession or relationship in Spanish, we use preposition de, equivalent to how English uses ‘s, for example: La casa de Ana. (Ana’s house.) In a previous post, we discussed all about indicating possession using Spanish possessive adjectives like mi (my), tu (your), and su (his, her, its) and possessive pronouns like el mio (mine), el tuyo (yours), and el suyo (his, hers, its). However, talking about possession using preposition de is particularly useful when we want to clarify or emphasize who the owner of the object is! Let’s check it out!
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Ownership with preposition ‘de’
In English, when we talk about possession we use an “apostrophe ‘s’” on the word that indicates the owner of an object: “Maria’s cat,” or to indicate relationship: “Maria’s sister.” In Spanish, we use the preposition de, in the following formula:
definite article + noun + de + owner
el gato de María Maria’s cat
la hermana de María Maria’s sister
⤷ TIP To help you remember the order of words in Spanish, think of de as English “of”: “the cat of Maria.”
Use ‘ser’ to indicate ownership/relationship
When we want to express possession or relationship in a sentence, we use the verb ser (to be) + preposition de:
El gato es de María. It’s Maria’s cat.
Rocío es la hermana de María. Rocío is Maria’s sister.
Ese perro no es de Laura. That dog isn’t Laura’s.
|–¿De quién es esa mochila?||Whose backpack is that?|
|–Es del chico argentino.||It belongs to the Argentinian guy.|
Es de él. It is his.
The case of the third person possessive adjectives or pronouns
In Spanish, to talk about “his,” “her,” “your” (formal), “its,” “your” (plural), or “their” we only have the possessive adjective su or sus. Because these forms can have many meanings, we often use the possessive construction with de + prepositional pronoun to avoid confusion:
Su carro → El carro de él / de ella/ de usted / de ustedes / de ellos / de ellas
His, her, their, your car
Sus estudiantes → Los estudiantes de él / de ella / de usted / de ustedes / de ellos / de ellas
His, her, their, your students
Sometimes you may need to clarify your message when talking about a third-person singular or plural, and you may even need to use the name of the person in case you want to be very clear:
–¿Hablaste con Felipe o con María? El sábado es su cumpleaños.
Did you talk with Felipe or with María? It’s his/her birthday on Saturday.
In the first example we use the possessive adjective su, but it isn’t clear if we’re talking about Felipe or María’s birthday. To clarify this, we can use the possessive construction with preposition de:
Or, we can specify who we’re talking about by referring to their name:
–El (cumpleaños) de Felipe.
The same is true for the long possessive adjective or pronoun suyo or suyos, because it can mean “his,” “hers,” “yours,” “its,” or “theirs.” When we need to clarify or even emphasize to whom the object belongs, we use the possessive construction with the preposition de.
–¿De quién es el lápiz y el cuaderno?
–El lápiz es mío y el cuaderno es suyo.
In this case, suyo can be replaced by de and a prepositional pronoun to clarify the owner of the notebook.
¡Ah! ¡El cuaderno es de ella! Ah! The notebook is hers!
In Spanish there are two ways to show possession: we can use the possessive adjectives and pronouns, or we can use the possessive construction with preposition de. Remember that this construction with de is particularly useful to clarify who su/sus or suyo/suyos refers to, since they don’t show gender! And this, my friends, is the one time you’ll get a pass on gender in Spanish!
Ready to practice? Here’s an exercise to practice both ways to talk about possession in Spanish!