I am unsure the correct wording of this question. Could anyone point me to usage notes or guidance on a construction such as this:

'Theirs was a position known to few.' Or, 'His was a car without equal.'

It seems this is a slightly more literary usage, as clearly the two examples could be rephrased as 'Their position was known to few' and 'His car was without equal.' Is this a form of inversion, which therefore gives it its feeling of being more literary?


2 Answers 2


This is called an 'independent possessive pronoun' or an independent possessive determiner .

They also appear in other situations :

My car is in the garage : can I borrow yours ?

Your own example is, indeed, a literary device which emphasises the importance of that which is possessed, by stating the possession independently of the thing itself.

  • Most uses in colloquial english are based on parallelism: "My car is really old and crappy; yours is great."
    – Stuart F
    Dec 14, 2023 at 9:50

Fronting is the generic term for moving to the beginning of a clause a constituent that does not normally appear there. This gives that constituent a greater emphasis than it would have in its more normal position.

Fronting: Definition and Examples

In your examples, the fronted constituents are the independent possessive pronouns theirs and his. Pronouns which precede their referents are examples of cataphora, i.e. forward pointing (in this case to position and car). The much more more usual backward pointing pronouns are examples of anaphora.

Cataphora in English Grammar

  • O.P.'s examples and rephrases all begin with the possessives, though, so this phenomenon would not seem to differentiate them. Oct 29, 2020 at 18:16
  • @Brian Donovan. That's correct. But the pronouns in question are independent. And so in this case we can differentiate cataphora (His was a car without equal) and anaphora (The/A car without equal was his.)
    – Shoe
    Oct 29, 2020 at 18:26

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