Her has two forms:

  1. Possessive form of 'she': This is her pen; She is her mother

  2. Object form of 'she': Give it to her; I know her

For simplicity, please let me refer to the first form of her as possessive she and the second form of she as object she.

The object she is surely a pronoun. But the case of possessive she is confusing.

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English says that possessive she is a determiner, whereas Swan's Practical English Usage says that possessive she is both a pronoun and a determiner.

I am confused. Is possessive she both a determiner and a pronoun? or is it only a determiner? If it it both, why does the LDCE define it only as a determiner?

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    Yes, it's both. It's a pronoun because it's coreferential with some other noun phrase, and it's a determiner because it fills the determiner slot in the noun phrase. For instance, we can say her brother or one of her brothers or a brother of hers but we can't say *a her brother, because a and her can't both fill the same determiner slot. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 18:46
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    Please could you give a link to the Longman entry? I Googled Longman possessive she but didn't find the precise quote. Also could you give a link for Swan, thanks. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 18:48
  • @JohnLawler, please also answer my last question. And Dear chasly from UK the LDCE link is: ldoceonline.com/search/?q=her I have Swan's book but not the link I am sorry. But you can read it in the entry number 441 of that book.
    – Raul
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 18:53
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    John Lawler outranks the LDCE (but can hardly say so himself). But he is always quick to point out that it's how words are used in sentences that's important, not shoehorning them into convenient / traditional / often unhelpful or even wrong word-classes. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 18:59
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    If your last question is about why the LDCE did not say it was both, that's their business and I have no idea why they did that. Perhaps they use a theory of parts of speech that requires that every word belong to one and only one category, no matter how it's used. That seems silly, but many people actually believe it. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 19:03

3 Answers 3


If Wikipedia can be trusted, it appears that there is no clear consensus on this topic.

Wikipedia's pronoun page says:

Possessive pronouns are used to indicate possession (in a broad sense). Some occur as independent noun phrases: mine, yours, hers, ours, yours, theirs...Others must accompany a noun: my, your, her, our, your, their...Those of the second type have traditionally been described as possessive adjectives, and in more modern terminology as possessive determiners. The term "possessive pronoun" is sometimes restricted to the first type.

The possessive determiner page also seems to suggest a disagreement:

The words my, your, etc. are sometimes classified, along with mine, yours etc., as possessive pronouns or genitive pronouns, since they are the possessive (or genitive) forms of the ordinary personal pronouns I, you etc. However, unlike most other pronouns, they do not behave grammatically as stand-alone nouns, but instead qualify another noun...

My personal opinion is that if possessive determiners don't stand alone as nouns, then they are just determiners and not pronouns.


In traditional grammar "her" is a possessive adjective (her father) and a personal pronoun (I love her). Today some prefer to say it is a determiner and a personal pronoun. What real information do you get with determiner? It says you can use the word as subelement before a noun. That's a relatively vague information.

By the way Longman's DCE has two entries: her no. 1 (in my terminology possessive adjective) and her no. 2 (pronoun, object form).

  • The important thing about determiners is that any noun only can have one determiner. So you can't say the my sister or a my sister, the way they do in Italian. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 19:40
  • I knew this since my schooldays that you don't say "the my father". That was 50 years before I ever heard the word determiner. And the term raises so many questions that one may ask whether the term helps understanding.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 19:47
  • But if you spoke Italian, you could. So maybe it's a necessary word (although determiners do seem to work the same in German and English). Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 19:47
  • I think il padre mio is something else. And deterniner doesn't help to understand Italian.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 19:49
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    And how exactly does calling it an adjective help with understanding? You can't say a my pen the way you can say a blue pen; you can't say the pen is my the way you can say the pen is blue; you can't put my in the comparative or superlative like you generally can with adjectives. Apart from the completely useless description of “it can come before a noun”, possessive determiners have basically nothing in common with adjectives. Plus, the term determiner doesn't raise any more questions than any other term for a part of speech. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 20:57

There are a few arguments for considering his, her, their, its etc to be pronouns.

  • They can be used as the subjects of gerunds.

  • They can be used to replace the possessive construction "[noun phrase]'s": for example, we can replace "the spider's legs" with "its legs". "The spider's" is not typically analyzed as an adjective, and while it plays the grammatical role of "determiner" or "determinative", the part of speech of "the spider's" is typically analyzed as "noun phrase" (inflected for the possessive/genitive—although the -'s suffix is difficult to analyze and its exact nature has been debated). If we analyze "its" the same way, we can conclude that it is standing for a genitive/possessive noun phrase, so it is a genitive/possessive pronoun.

I don't think the terminology matters that much though.

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