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Son ? Sa ? Ses ? Understand French Possessive Adjectives

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Jun 19, 2020
African American Woman with her French bulldog

To understand French possessive adjectives, focus on what you’re describing: UN chien, UNE chienne, or DES chiens? Whether YOU are a man or a woman is not important.

I’ll use an example to explain French possessive adjectives. Her dog.

To master French possessive adjectives, you need to focus on the dog!

1 – What is a Possessive Adjective ?

A possessive adjective is a word that says to whom something belongs.

This is her dog.

2 – Possessive Adjectives in English

In English, there are seven possessive adjectives.

  1. my dog(s)
  2. your dog(s)
  3. his dog(s)
  4. her dog(s)
  5. its dog(s)
  6. our dog(s)
  7. their dog(s)

In English, wether the dog is a female dog or a male dog, or even if there are several dogs doesn’t matter at all.

What matter is the subject. The person to whom the dog belong : the owner of the dog(s).

Simple enough.

2 – For French Possessive Adjectives, Focus on the Dog!

In French, it’s similar and different at the same time.

You still have to choose who the owner is: my, you, his etc…

But then what matter is whether the dog is a male dog (masculine) or a female dog (feminine), and whether there’s one dog (singular) or several dogs (plural)

For example, when you talk about a woman’s male dog:

  1. In English you’s say HER dog.
    What matters is that a ‘she’ is the owner.
  2. In French you’d say SON chien.
    What matters is that a ‘she’ is the owner, AND THEN that the dog is one male dog.

I understand this is very weird for an English speaker.
You need to change your focus.
In French, you need to focus on the dog!

Try to visualize this cute male dog and link this image to:
C’est le chien de Mary. C’est SON chien.

cute french bulldog puppy

By the way, here is my complete French dog guide!

Now let’s see the French possessive adjective chart.

3 – French Possessive Adjective Chart

Unlike English, each French possessive adjective has two or three forms.

My+ masculine
mon
+ feminine
ma
+ plural
mes
Your
(1 person
informal)
+ masculine
ton
+ feminine
ta
+ plural
tes
His, her, its+ masculine
son
+ feminine
sa
+ plural
ses
Our+ masculine
notre
+ feminine
notre
+ plural
nos
Your
(1 formal
or plural)
+ masculine
votre
+ feminine
votre
+ plural
vos
Their+ masculine
leur
+ feminine
leur
+ plural
leurs

4 – What is the French Possessive Adjective For the Pronoun “On”?

The possessive for “on” depends on the meaning of on.

  1. It can be “son, sa, ses” when “on” means “one or they”
  2. or “notre, nos” when on means “nous”.

5 – How to Choose the Correct French Possessive Adjectives

For each English possessive pronouns, you’ll have several possible French translations.

My = mon, ma, mes

Only one will match the situation though.

For example, “my” dog can be:

  1.  “mon chien” for one masculine dog,
  2. “ma chienne” for one feminine dog,
  3. “mes chiens” if I have several dogs.

You need to ask yourself 2 questions:

A – Who is the Owner?

First figure out the owner.
Do you want to translate “my, your, his, her, its, our or their dog/s ?”

B – Analyse the Dog!

That’s what you need to change.

In French, you cannot just consider the “my” part: you need to consider the word that follows in French

  1. Is-it singular or plural French word ?
  2. Feminine or masculine?

Remember – the owner doesn’t matter. Stay focus on the dog!

C – Examples

In other words, let’s say that we are talking about one male dog.

  • “Anne” would say:
    “mon chien” (not ma chienne),
    my dog
    because she has one male dog
    (the fact that Anne is a woman doesn’t count at all)
    Anne would say “ma chienne” if she had one female dog.
  • “Sophie and Anne” would say
    “notre chien” (not nos chiens),
    our dog
    because the both of them only have one male dog,
    and again, what counts is the dog, not that Sophie and Anne are girls or plural.
    They would say “nos chiens” if they had several dogs.

C – Every French word has a gender

In French, every word has a gender…

  1. A book is masculine: un livre,
  2. a table feminine : une table.
  3. happiness is masculine : le bonheur but joy is feminine : la joie… Oh the joys of French!!

You need to know the gender of the word you are describing to choose the correct possessive adjective in French.

  1. Le livre de Mary = son livre
  2. La table de Patrick = sa table

D – How to memorize French possessive adjectives?

I understand it’s not easy.

Practice does it though. The best way in my opinion to master French possessive adjectives is to visualize the situation and link the French words to the situation, not to the English words.

Study possessive, demonstrative, interrogative and regular adjectives, memorize them in the context of a bilingual French story and master their pronunciation with my intermediate French audiobook method.

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So now let’s go further with French possessive adjectives.

4 – Watch out for ses and leur

This is a mistake I hear too often: “ses chiens” to say “their dog(s)”.

  1. Ses chiens = his/her dogs
    When the possessive adjective refers to a 3rd person singular ; he or she, your choice is among sa, son, ses + chien/ne(s)
  2. Leurs chiens or leur chien= their dog(s)
    When the possessive adjective refers to 3rd person plural – they,
    your choice is among leur and leurs + chien(s)

5 – Watch out for the “Mutant” French Possessive Adjective

When a feminine word starts with a VOWEL or a mute H, you won’t use “ma, ta, sa” BUT “mon, ton, son” (the masculine form) for a reason of pronunciation – to avoid a clash of vowels

In other words, dont’ say “ma amie” but say “mon amie” – even though the word amie is feminine – with a strong liaison in N [mon Namie].

“Ma amie” is a jaw breaker. Try to say it out loud: you’ll see, it’s not comfortable. So it’s a lazy mouth rule :-)

Same goes for “ton auto” (your car), “son école” (his school)…

6 – French Possessive Adjectives Never Take Elision

M’, t’, s’ stand for me, te, se, reflexive pronouns, never possessive adjectives.

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