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How to use possessives in Spanish?

A city with a mountain in the background.

Possessives in Spanish always express possession or belonging, they tell who the “owner” is, and agree with the noun (whatever is owned) in gender and number. They’re used mainly as adjectives and have two forms: long and short. But did you know that possessives can also work on their own? If you’re curious about Spanish possessives, keep reading!

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end!

Possessive adjectives in Spanish

Possessive adjectives are words like mi (my), tu (your), and su (his or her), and they are used to indicate possession or relationship. Just as with other adjectives in Spanish, they must agree in gender and number with whatever is owned. There are two types of possessive adjectives in Spanish, they are short and long. Let’s see what these are about.
Imagine you’re planning a weekend away with your best friend. You’re packing your bags and you’re checking what each of you is taking:

¿Qué vas a llevar? -Voy a llevar mi cámara y mis gafas de sol.
What are you taking? -I’m taking my camera and my sunglasses.

The words mi and mis are possessive adjectives. Can you tell the difference between them? One form is singular (mi) and the other one is plural (mis): they both agree with the noun right after them!
IMPORTANT

You need to pay extra attention here: in Spanish, the form of the possessive adjective corresponds to the owner and it agrees with the item owned, not with the owner:

Es mi libro.

It’s my book.

Son tus libros.
⤷ item owned
They are your books.
As you can see, short possessive adjectives are one word only and they’re always placed before the noun they modify. Let’s see the rest of them in the following table:
Spanish short possessive adjectives
English
SingularPlural
mimismy
tutusyour
sususher, his, your, its
nuestro, nuestranuestros, nuestrasour
*vuestro, vuestra*vuestros, vuestrasyour
susustheir, your

*Did you know?
Possessive vuestro, vuestra, vuestros and vuestras (your) are used mainly in Spain. But did you know they are also used in some parts of Peru?

Let’s continue with the weekend planning:

¿Dónde está nuestra cabaña? -Está a 15 kilómetros del centro.
Where’s our cabin? -It’s 15 kilometers from downtown.

Nuestras maletas están en el carro.
Our suitcases are in the car.

Notice that most possessive adjectives only have two forms: singular and plural. But for nuestro and vuestro, we also have feminine forms in both singular and plural. Now, look at the table again. What can you say about the case of the possessive adjective su and sus for the third-person singular? In English, we have different possessive adjectives: “her,” “his,” and “its.” But in Spanish, we have no such distinction! In this case, my friend, you’ll need to rely on context to determine the person it refers to:

Mi hermana me prestó su sombrero.
My sister lent me her hat.
Visitemos a Felipe. ¿Te dio su dirección?
Let’s visit Felipe. Did he give you his address?

There are other ways to clarify or emphasize the gender of the owner. Check out “How to talk about possession in Spanish” and you’ll see what I’m talking about!
IMPORTANT

Unlike English, in Spanish we use definite articles instead of possessive adjectives when we talk about parts of the body, clothes, and other personal objects when the item involved belongs to the person being referred to. Let’s see some examples:

Me duele la cabeza. My head hurts.
¿Te lavo el pantalón?  Do you want me to wash your pants
Me puse los lentes de sol.  I put on my sunglasses.

Long possessive adjectives

Even though short possessive adjectives are a lot more common than long ones, this type of possessive adjective is very useful when we’re contrasting one possessor with another or putting emphasis on who the possessor is. Let’s go back to our weekend getaway planning! Your friend says this:

La maleta grande es mía y la mochila pequeña es tuya.
The big suitcase is mine and the small backpack is yours.

As you can see, long possessive adjectives are placed after the noun they modify — and NOT before, like the short forms — and they also consist of one word only. Let’s see the rest of the forms and their English equivalents in the following table:
Spanish long possessive adjectives
English
SingularPlural
mío, míamíos, míasmine
tuyo, tuyatuyos, tuyasyour
suyo, suyasuyos, suyashers, his, yours, its
nuestro, nuestranuestros, nuestrasours
vuestro, vuestravuestros, vuestrasyours
suyo, suyasuyos, suyastheirs, yours
What difference can you see between short and long possessive adjectives? If your answer was that all long forms have a masculine, a feminine, and their corresponding plural forms, you’re correct! Let’s continue packing:

Este bolso aquí es mío y esta cámara es mía
This bag here is mine and this camera is mine.
Esos zapatos son tuyos y esas gafas de sol son tuyas
Those shoes are yours and these sunglasses are yours.

IMPORTANT

I have a challenge for you now. Take a look at the two sentences below. Can you tell me what the difference is? Do they mean exactly the same thing? Take your time: 

Esteban es mi primo.
Esteban is my cousin.

Esteban es primo mío.
Esteban is a cousin of mine.

In the example on the left we’re using the short possessive adjective to refer to something unique in general or in a specific situation. So, when I say Esteban es mi primo, I mean to specify he’s my cousin and not my brother (or someone else). Conversely, if I say Esteban es primo mío, by using the long possessive adjective I want to say that he’s my cousin but not the only one; I have more cousins. Interesting, isn’t it?

Now, when do we use short or long possessive adjectives? To answer this, we have created this cheat-sheet with different cases and examples for each.

Possessive pronouns in Spanish

Possessive pronouns are also words used to indicate possession. The difference from possessive adjectives is that, since they’re pronouns, they replace the nouns previously mentioned. If you remember long possessive adjectives, then you’re one step closer towards mastering possessive pronouns: they’re the same! All you need to add is a definite article (el, la, los, las) before. Let’s see this in detail:

¿Has visto mi traje de baño?
 ⤷ adjective   

-Aquí está el mío,
⤷ pronoun    

pero no sé dónde está el tuyo. ⤷ pronoun  

Have you seen my bathing suit? -Here’s mine, but I don’t know where yours is.

I’m sure you noticed what happened there. In the first part of the example, we used a short possessive adjective mi and a noun (traje de baño, bathing suit). In the second part, we used the definite article el and a possessive pronoun to avoid repeating the noun again: we replaced the noun that had been already mentioned. In this particular example, we used el mío and el tuyo because the noun we’re replacing (traje de baño) is masculine. These pronouns are also very useful when answering questions:

–¿Este vaso es tuyo o mío?       Is this cup yours or mine?
–Es tuyo.          It’s yours.

IMPORTANT

Notice that after the verb ser, the article is dropped:

–¿De quién son estos zapatos?
–Son míos.

Whose shoes are these?
They’re mine.

Unless you are choosing between items:

¿Cuáles son tus zapatos?
–Estos son los míos, y aquellos son los tuyos.

Which ones are your shoes?
These are mine, and those are yours.

To sum up

Today we learned the differences between possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns in Spanish. Here’s a summary for you:

Spanish possessive adjectives
Possessive pronounsShortLong
Useshows ownership and is placed before the noun it modifies.shows ownership and is placed after the noun it modifies.replaces the noun previously mentioned and is used with definite articles.
Formsevery form has a singular and plural, but only the forms for nosotros and vosotros have masculine and feminine.every form has masculine, feminine, and plural.every form has masculine, feminine, and plural.
To help you practice possessives in Spanish, we have created this exercise for you. Happy learning!
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar
Adjectives are words that are used to describe something, including people, animals, things, places, or ideas. Adjectives are used to make many types of descriptions, such as stating the color, amount, category, appearance, or possession of something or someone.

el niño pequeño            the small child

Definite articles in Spanish are the equivalent of the English article “the” and are words that are used to make nouns specific.
  • Definite articles in Spanish are el, la, los, and las.
Meet The Author:
Natalia Molina
Natalia Molina Ceballos
Spanish Coach
Natalia is a Spanish coach at Mango Languages.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Extra Resources:

Possessive adjectives uses

Activities:

Possessive adjectives activity

Activities:

Possessive adjectives activity

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