What is a possessive adjective?
Possessive adjectives, in Italian aggettivi possessivi, are those that indicate possession or ownership.
The Italian possessive adjectives correspond to the English “my,” “your,” “his,” “her,” “its,” “our,” and “their.”
The possessive adjectives are a fundamental part of the speech that you need to know to be able to speak Italian correctly.
In this article we’ll analyze in detail their use and form.
How do I use a possessive adjective in Italian?
In Italian, there are quite a few more possessive adjectives to master than the eight of the English language, but don’t get discouraged, it’s easier than it seems! Let’s take a look at the different possessive adjectives in Italian:
|His / Her / Its||suo||suoi||sua||sue|
As you can see from the chart, the possessive adjectives change according to gender (feminine or masculine) and number (singular or plural).
However, they change according with the noun possessed, and not with the possessor. The possessive adjective in Italian will be masculine or feminine whether the possessed thing is masculine or feminine.
For instance, stanza (room) is feminine singular, so if you want to say “my room” you should use the feminine singular for “my” and so the sentence would be la mia stanza. This is the case whether it’s a man or woman talking about their room.
So the first thing you need to do is to determine gender and number of the possessed object and then modify the possessive adjective accordingly.
- Mary ha un giardino molto grande. Il suo giardino è molto bello.
Mary has a very big garden. Her garden is very beautiful.
As you can see, suo is used in its singular and masculine form because it does not need to agree with Mary, but with giardino (“garden”), which is a singular and masculine noun in Italian.
It may sound complicated at first, but you will find it becomes easier with practice.
A few more examples:
- La casa di Mary. La sua casa.
Mary’s house. Her house.
- La casa di Paul. La sua casa.
Paul’s house. His house.
Casa is a singular, feminine noun, and therefore the possessive adjective will be used in its singular and feminine form, no matter if the possessor is a male or a female.
- Il libro di Mary. Il suo libro.
Mary’s book. Her book.
- Il libro di Paul. Il suo libro.
Paul’s book. His book.
If the possessed object is a plural noun, you will also change the possessive adjective accordingly. First you will decide whether the possessed object is masculine or feminine, and then you will form the plural:
- Le case di Mary. Le sue case
Mary’s houses. Her houses
- Le case di Paul. Le sue case
Paul’s house. His house
- I libri di Mary. I suoi libri.
Mary’s books. Her books.
- I libri di Paul. I suoi libri.
Paul’s books. His books.
Italian possessive adjectives with definite articles
Maybe you have noticed from the past examples that, compared to English, Italian adds something more before the possessive adjectives.
We are talking about the definite articles, or articoli determinativi. This leads us to a fundamental rule to keep in mind: the Italian possessive adjectives are always preceded by a definite article (with few exceptions that we’ll see later). Unlike English, you generally can’t start a sentence with a possessive adjective or use a possessive adjective without the right definite article before it.
- My house is big
Mia casa è grande X
- His book is expensive
Suo libro è costoso X
- Have you seen our books?
Hai visto nostri libri? X
These sentences are wrong in Italian, because you need to add a definite article (the) before the possessive adjective:
- La mia casa è grande – (the) My house is big
- Il suo libro è costoso – (the) His book is expensive
- Hai visto i nostri libri? – Have you seen (the) our books?
- I loro figli sono in Spagna – (the) Their sons are in Spain
- Il tuo smartphone è costoso – (the) Your smartphone is expensive
- I nostri vestiti sono puliti – (the) Our clothes are clean
Like the possessive adjective, also the definite article has to agree in gender and number with the noun possessed. Let’s see how to put definite articles and possessive adjectives together:
|My||il mio||i miei||la mia||le mie|
|Your||il tuo||i tuoi||la tua||le tue|
|His / Her / Its||il suo||i suoi||la sua||le sue|
|Our||il nostro||i nostril||la nostra||le nostre|
|Your||il vostro||i vostri||la vostra||le vostre|
|Their||il loro||i loro||la loro||le loro|
The possessive adjective ‘suo’
English uses his, her or its, depending if something belongs to a man, woman, thing or animal. Italian never makes this distinction, because we’ve seen that the possessive adjective will agree in gender and number with the thing possessed, and never with the owner.
- La sua casa – His house / her house / its house
- I suoi amici – His friends / her friends / its friends
The possessive adjective suo, sua, suoi, sue is equivalent to his, her, its and is used when the owner is only one individual: the third-person singular (he, she or it).
- Il suo computer – his computer
- La sua sedia – his chair
- I suoi gatti – his cats
- Le sue riviste – his magazines
The polite form with ‘suo’
Sometimes the third person suo is also used instead of the second-person tuo in formal contexts.
This use of the third-person has no equivalent in English.
Usually, when referring to an individual person in formal situations, Italian people use the third-person pronoun (Lei) and possessive adjective instead of the second person (tu).
If you want to be polite to someone who is older than you, or you have just met, you will not use the second-person possessive adjective tuo (your) or his variations (tua, tuoi, tue). You will instead use suo, sua, suoi, or sue (his).
- Ecco il suo conto – Here is your bill
- Ecco la sua fattura – Here is your invoice
- Ecco i suoi documenti – Here are your documents
- Ecco le sue chiavi – Here are your keys
The polite use of the third person to interact with someone in formal contexts can be tricky for English speakers, since English doesn’t make this type of distinction.
But don’t worry, Italian people won’t get offended if you sound more casual, as long as you say everything with a smile!
The possessive adjectives ‘tuo’ and ‘vostro’
In English, your is both singular and plural. The correspondent possessive adjectives in Italian are tuo (tua, tuoi, tue) and vostro (vostra, vostri, vostre). You will use tuo when the possessor is one single individual, and vostro when it’s more than one person.
- Mi piace il tuo tavolo – I like your table (one person’s table)
- Mi piace il vostro tavolo – I like your table (two – or more – people’s table)
The possessive adjective ‘loro’
As you can see from the Italian possessive adjective chart, the only one which remains unchanged is loro. Loro is the equivalent of the English ‘their’ and is used when the possessors are two people, or more than two. When using loro, you don’t need to modify it according to the gender or number. You only need to choose the right definite article: il, i, la, le, depending whether the possessed object is feminine or masculine and singular or plural, and finally add loro.
- Il loro zaino – their backpack
- I loro zaini – their backpacks
- La loro amica – their friend (female friend)
- Le loro amiche – their friends (female friends)
The possessive adjectives ‘proprio’ e ‘altrui’
You’ve studied the Italian possessive adjective and now you think you can use them confidently? Great! Then it’s time to add two more impersonal possessive adjective, mostly used when there is no specific possessor: proprio and altrui.
Proprio can replace the third-person possessive adjectives suo/a/e/i (his, her, its) and loro (their), but ONLY when the subject of the sentence and the possessor is the same person.
You can use proprio when you want to point out that an object belongs to a person (or people) and no one else. For instance:
- Marco porterà il proprio zaino – Marco will bring his own backpack
In this sentence you can use either proprio or suo, since Marco is both the subject of the sentence and the owner of the backpack. If you use suo is fine as well, however, proprio reinforces the idea that the owner of the backpack is Marco.
NOTE: Never use suo + proprio or loro + proprio together, you need to pick one or the other.
The possessive adjective proprio will also follow the general rule and change according to the gender and number of the possessed object, and it must be preceded by the correct definite article.
- Ognuno mangerà il proprio pranzo
Everyone will eat his own lunch
- Maria parlerà della propria esperienza
Maria will talk about her own experience
- Ognuno ha le proprie chiavi?
Does everyone have his own keys?
- Marco e Lucia hanno i propri problemi da risolvere
Marco and Lucia have their own problems to solve
The other impersonal possessive adjective is altrui, which means “other people’s” or “of others” and indicates an indefinite possessor.
Altrui is easier to use, because it doesn’t change according to number or gender and usually follows the name of the possessed object, with this structure: definite article + name of the possessed object + altrui.
- Devi rispettare le opinioni altrui
You have to respect other people’s opinion
- Non si prendono le cose altrui
You can’t take other people’s things
- Non mi importa del giudizio altrui
I don’t care about the opinion of others
- Dobbiamo tutti prestare attenzione alle esigenze altrui
We all need to pay attention to the needs of others
- Ficcare il naso nei fatti altrui
Stick your nose in other people’s business
When to not use the definite article with possessive adjectives
We’ve seen that Italian possessive adjectives are preceded by a definite article. However, these articles are sometimes dropped. You can’t use the definite article with singular nouns indicating a family relationship:
- Mio padre – my father
- Tua madre – your mother
- Sua sorella – his sister
- Nostro cugino – our cousin
- Ho incontrato vostra zia in centro – I’ve met your aunt downtown
- Suo marito è un avvocato – Her husband is a lawyer
- Mi piace molto sua sorella – I like her sister a lot
As you can see from the examples, you don’t need to use the definite article with singular family names even if you’re talking about the family relationship of others, not only your own. The definite article comes back in case the noun indicating a family relationship is plural:
- I miei genitori – my parents
- Le sue sorelle – his sisters
- I nostri cugini – our cousins
- I vostri nonni – your grandparents
- I suoi fratelli sono più grandi di me – Her brothers are older than me
- Ho visto i suoi genitori ieri – I’ve seen her parents yesterday
This rule does not apply to the possessive adjective loro. Even if loro is followed by a singular family name, it always needs the definite article:
- Conosco bene la loro madre – I know their mother very well
- La loro cugina è una mia cara amica – Their cousin is a dear friend of mine
- Il loro cane è davvero adorabile – Their dog is really lovely
Omission of Italian possessive adjectives
Sometimes the Italian possessive adjectives are omitted in cases where English speakers actually use them.
This happens for instance with parts of the body or clothing. Generally, possessive adjectives are not used with parts of the body or clothing of the subject when they are the object of the action taken by the subject.
- Mi sono lavato i denti
I brushed my teeth (You can’t say: mi sono lavato i miei denti)
- Gianni si è tolto il cappello
Gianni took off his hat (and not: Gianni si è tolto il suo cappello)
- Chiudi gli occhi
Close your eyes (and not: chiudi i tuoi occhi)
- Ho lasciato la borsa a casa
I left my bag at home (and not: ho lasciato la mia borsa a casa)
There’s quite a lot to memorize in this lesson. The use of the different Italian possessive adjectives isn’t obvious at first, but with time and practice it will come naturally. Forgetting the right possessive adjective or definite article is absolutely normal, so do not be afraid to speak with natives for fear of picking the wrong one. And if you’re in doubt, remember that Italian people will always be glad to help you!