How to Decline and Translate Latin Possessive Pronouns

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Just like English, Latin’s possessive pronouns are used to replace a noun and indicate ownership of a noun. The purpose of possessive pronouns is to reduce redundancy in both speech and writing. However, speakers and writers of both languages must be careful to avoid ambiguity when using these efficient parts of speech. Often, it is possible for a pronoun to refer to several previous nouns. When this is so, the ambiguity must be properly eliminated so the sentence is clear.

English Possessive Pronouns

The most important thing to remember about possessive pronouns when replacing a noun is that they refer to the person possessing something. They do not refer to the object or person possessed. This often seems strange to students learning about this type of pronoun because it is naturally assumed that the pronoun refers back to what is possessed. Take these two-sentence examples that ask a question and answer using a possessive pronoun:

Whose bicycle is red? Mine.

The possessive pronoun and answer to the question “mine” is really indicating “my bicycle is red” or perhaps “the red bicycle is mine.” Either way, it answers the question “whose” in the first sentence. Hence, the possessive pronoun “mine” refer back to the possessor “whose” not to the object “the red bicycle” that is possessed. Take this next example:

Whose daughter is tall? His.

Again, the possessive “his” refers back to the possessor of the daughter, not the daughter herself who is the person possessed. English possessive pronouns can take the form of any person and number. The English possessive pronouns include:

1st person: mine (singular), ours (plural)

2nd person: yours (singular), yours (plural)

3rd person: his, hers, its (singular), theirs (plural

Notice that, as usual, with English’s second person, the singular and plural forms are identical. Take the following sentence:

Whose grade on the test was poor? Yours.

The possessive pronoun “yours” can potentially refer to a singular (one person) or plural (two or more people) possessor. Without more information, the possessor’s number is ambiguous. This fact becomes important when translating from Latin to English. Latin does not suffer from this ambiguity so more information may need to be provided by a translator when translating from Latin unambiguous to English’s ambiguous second person.

Latin Possessive Pronouns

Possessive Pronouns do not provide any new forms for the Latin student; Latin’s possessive pronouns have exactly the same form as possessive adjectives. However, instead of modifying a noun as possessive adjectives do, possessive pronouns replace nouns just as they do in English.

Just like possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns decline as Group 1 adjectives. Simply add the appropriate ending to the stem of the possessive adjective to form the possessive pronoun: For example:

Estne illa puella tua? Est mea.

Is that your daughter? She is mine.

Suntne hi pueri tui? Sunt mei.

Are these your boys? They are mine.

Notice that the gender and number of each possessive pronouns (“mea” and “mei”) agrees with the antecedent it modifies in the first sentence. Also, notice that these possessive pronouns refer back to the possessor of the people (girl and boys).

Since Latin’s possessive pronouns have the same forms as its possessive adjectives, no new forms need be learned. It is just a matter of understanding that possessive pronouns replace rather than modify a noun.

Latin and English both employ possessive pronouns to replace a noun and refer back to the possessor of an object or person. Translating them from Latin to English provides little complication other than English’s lack of differentiating forms for the singular and plural second person. When translating from Latin to English, a little literary license may be necessary. For example, a literal translation may leave the reader or listener with some ambiguity as to the number of a possessive pronoun in the second person. Adding a few extra words to the translation may be necessary at the expense of a pure, literal translation to get the correct meaning across.