The word it is a pronoun. When I add an s to it, does it change the word class?

For example in the following sentence:

The gift is still in its box.

My questions are:

  1. Does the "S" change the word class?

  2. Is the "S" an inflectional or derivational morpheme?

closed as off-topic by Edwin Ashworth, Kris, Nigel J, jimm101, Scott Apr 4 '18 at 23:53

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  • 1
    Please allow several hours or even better, a couple of days, before accepting an answer. – Kris Apr 2 '18 at 7:49
  • See also Linguistics – Kris Apr 2 '18 at 7:51

Its is in your first example the possessive determiner of the personal pronoun it. See this page by Cambridge Dictionary, which states the following about it:

personal pronoun: it

possessive determiner: its

possessive pronoun: its (this one is rarely used)

The added s is not an inflectional affix (unless one would treat it as a noun), because there are only 8 in the English language and those 8 do not correspond with this one. If it is seen as a noun, it could be argued that the added s is a noun possessive, which is one of the 8 inflectional affixes listed on that page.

According to this Wikipedia page it (and other pronouns) is (are) a functional morpheme(s).

  • So, it did change the word's class? Which makes it derivational , right? – – mathlearner Apr 1 '18 at 21:02
  • EDIT: I meant to say "derivational morpheme " but the auto correction missed it up. Sorry – mathlearner Apr 1 '18 at 21:02
  • @mathlearner I am not entirely sure about that, it could be, but I really don't know. – JJJ Apr 1 '18 at 21:05
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    The linked page says "noun possessive {-s}" is an inflectional affix. Are you saying that the s in "its" is not the same as in the 's in something like "Sally's"? – sumelic Apr 1 '18 at 21:29
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    Before reading this answer I was thinking "possessive pronoun". Then I got to thinking about contexts like I've only got one plate for me and one for the dog. So you'll have to eat off its. As you say, "rarely used". – FumbleFingers Apr 3 '18 at 15:22

This is just a supplement to the excellent answer by sumelic.

For completeness:

  1. No, adding an 's' to 'it' to produce 'its' does not result in a change in class. Both it and its are pronouns.

  2. This 's' is an inflectional morpheme.


Both CGEL and ComGEL would say that its is just the pronoun it in the genitive case. And as far as what 'case' is, according to CGEL (p. 455),

The term case applies in the first instance to a system of inflectional forms of a noun that serve to mark the function of an NP relative to the construction containing it.

(CGEL treats pronouns as a subcategory of nouns, whereas ComGEL does not; if you don't want to take pronouns as a subcategory of nouns, just replace of a noun in the above by of a noun or a pronoun.)

These two grammars do not use the term 'inflectional morpheme', but from the above, it follows that 's' in its is precisely that.


The VERB walk inflects according to
case > he walks
tense > he walked
aspect >he is walking

The NOUN walk is inflected to denote the

plural > He enjoyed his Sunday walks
genetive > Click on the walk’s name (note the apostrophe)

Inflection is the process of adding inflectional morphemes that modify a verb's tense or a noun's number, rarely affecting the word's meaning or class. Examples of applying inflectional morphemes to words are adding -s to the root dog to form dogs and adding -ed to wait to form waited.

Sometimes a derivational morpheme is added to modify the meaning
agent noun > a walker (either a person who walks, or a walking frame)

In contrast, derivation is the process of adding derivational morphemes, which create a new word from existing words and change the semantic meaning or the part of speech of the affected word, such as by changing a noun to a verb

Sometimes the suffix -er is an inflectional morpheme, the -er is attached to monosyllabic ADJECTIVES to form its comparative. For example, hotter tells us that something has a higher temperature, and we use the suffix -est to form the superlative (hottest), the adjective hot remains an adjective even when the suffixes -er and -est are used.

The possessive PRONOUN its is always spelled its. When an apostrophe is added, i.e. it's, it changes meaning to represent the contracted form of it is or it has.

The plural form of it is not its. Similarly, we don't normally say Is, yous, hes, or shes, instead their plural equivalents are: we, you and they. The possessive adjectives: your, her and their are the only ones which accept an -s suffix, while the POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE / PRONOUN his and its remain unchanged, e.g.
A: Whose is this cover?
B: “It's yours/hers/his (no change)/theirs
B: “It's its” (grammatical but rather awkward to say the least.)

"Only English nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs–all open classes of words–take inflectional affixes. Closed classes of words . . . take no inflectional affixes in English. Inflectional affixes always follow derivational ones if both occur in a word, which makes sense if we think of inflections as affixes on fully formed words. For example, the words antidisestablishmentarianism and uncompartmentalize each contain a number of derivational affixes, and any inflectional affixes must occur at the end: antidisestablishmentarianisms and uncompartmentalized.

(Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone. Wadsworth, 2010)

See also Wikipedia's article on Inflection


The word it is a pronoun1. The word its is also a pronoun2. So the word class is the same.

The s is an inflectional morpheme, like the 's used in the spelling of the possessive form Sally's of the noun Sally. In fact, although the spelling is different in standard English, it could be argued that the s in its is the same inflectional morpheme as 's. In more abstract analyses, the same morpheme might even be considered to be present in words like her and my despite the completely different phonological realization: the idea that one morpheme may have completely different phonological realizations in different words is an extreme example of the concept of "allomorphy". The extended version of this concept is often illustrated with the example of English plurals: some people argue that even though there are several distinct ways of marking the plural forms of nouns in English from a phonological perspective, all plural nouns can be considered to contain the same plural morpheme (variably realized as things like /z/, /s/ /ɪz/, ∅, /ən/, ...). You can see a more extensive description of this in the following presentation: http://ling.uni-konstanz.de/pages/home/plank/for_download/SHE-I-WS11-12/2-Allomorphy.pdf

Even if you don't use this conception of allomorphy, it's still clear that its is an inflected, not a derived form of it. You can see pronoun forms described as inflections in "Cases, Inflection, and Pronouns" by Tony Jebson.

  1. Note that pronouns may be considered a subcategory of nouns (pronouns obviously don't behave the same as either proper nouns or common nouns, but that can be explained in terms of pronouns not sharing the properties that are specific to these other subsets of nouns, rather than pronouns not sharing the properties that are characteristic of the overarching category of nouns.)

  2. Some people call words like my your its "possessive adjectives" or "possessive determiners" rather than "possessive pronouns", reserving the latter term for words like mine yours, but there are several arguments for considering both sets of words to be pronouns. Forms like her his its can take previously-mentioned nouns as antecedents; they can also be used as the subject of the non-finite -ing form of a verb (at least for some speakers--there are some speakers who apparently think that this construction sounds strange in many contexts).

  • Note that the two highest voted answers in that post say "pronouns differ inflectionally from prototypical nouns". I am not sure if that changes anything regarding extending this property (of inflectional morphemes) of nouns to pronouns. – JJJ Apr 1 '18 at 21:59
  • @JJJ: Right; but the answers don't say that pronouns don't inflect, just that they inflect differently from other nouns. – sumelic Apr 1 '18 at 22:09
  • Thank you so much. That is the greatest explanation. I really wish my instructor explains things this way. – mathlearner Apr 1 '18 at 22:13
  • Usually its is a possessive determiner like my, but sometimes it’s a possessive pronoun like mine. (Or maybe that should read: ... but sometimes its’s a possessive pronoun like mine :) – tchrist Apr 3 '18 at 15:18
  • @tchrist: As I said in the second note, there are reasons to consider my a pronoun. "Determiner" is a function, not a part of speech. The name Sally is a proper noun, and we presumably don't want to say that it changes its part of speech when we form a phrase like Sally's house. – sumelic Apr 3 '18 at 18:28

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