Use of possessive adjectives in English

When an Englishman wants to refer to parts of the body or to objects of personal use, he will use a possessive adjective. Examples:

  • My head aches.
  • I dropped my glasses.

In the Romance languages, possessive adjectives are not used in these cases. In Spanish, the expression is “Me duele la cabeza” (“The head aches to me”). Or, “Se me cayeron los anteojos” (“The glasses dropped themselves to me”). A reflexive pronoun and a definite article replace the use of the possessive adjective. The same, I think, can be said about French or Italian.

Why this heavy use of possessive adjectives in English? Was it already present in the Proto-Germanic language?


The current terminology for words like my is ‘possessive determiner’, rather than ‘possessive adjective’.

I can’t speak for Spanish, but the French possessive determiners (mon, ma, mes, ton, ta, tes, son, sa, ses, notre, nos, votre, vos, leur, leurs) are frequently used. Reflexive constructions like Me duele la cabeza are also found in French, but that is really rather incidental to the use of possessive determiners. Se me cayeron los anteojos is presumably a passive construction, but I’m not sure it has much bearing on the use of possessive determiners either.

Old English had a set of possessive determiners in the first, second and third persons, and singular, dual and plural numbers, and the third person form was, additionally, inflected for the gender (masculine, feminine or neuter).

Romance languages use more impersonal constructions than English because Latin also did so, but that is really a separate issue from the use of possessive determiners.

Source : Link , Question Author : Enrique Stefanini , Answer Author : James Webster

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