Since its can be both determiner possessive pronoun and nominal possessive pronoun, an example of its as determiner possessive pronoun would be:

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Because complexity is a noun, so its must be a determiner possessive pronoun in this sentence. I'm looking for an example where its is used as nominal possessive pronoun in a sentence as above.

  • If you are looking for an example where its is used as nominal possessive pronoun, I suggest the following: "The house seemed asleep yet, as I have said, it had a life of its own."
    – user19148
    Jul 29, 2012 at 17:39
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    Interesting question. It's tempting to say its can't be used as a nominal possessive pronoun (that is, like the word "hers" rather than "her"), although I might have found a published example. I'll wait for a grammarian to chime in.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 29, 2012 at 17:47
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    @Andrew Leach: I didn't post an answer for avoiding a lot of downvotes, as it has often happened when I have cited my references. However, in this case my grammar book say: "We avoid using its as possessive pronoun except when we use it with own."
    – user19148
    Jul 29, 2012 at 17:57
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    @Carlo_R. No Carlo, you are wrong. In “it had a life of its own”, its is not a possessive pronoun (substantive); it’s a possessive determiner (adjective), which is precisely the distinction the OP was asking about. You have misunderstood the question. These are more distinct in English, Spanish, or French than they are in Italian; this may be your error. Contrast EN my, your / ES mi, tu / FR mon, ton with EN mine, yours / ES el mío, tuyo / FR le mien, tien, but Italian has only il mio, tuo or sometimes just mio, tuo, which are not so different as in the others.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2012 at 17:57
  • @AndrewLeach See my answer for an OED citation from Shakespeare. John also provides examples of its as a true possessive pronoun.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2012 at 18:00

5 Answers 5


It’s much more common to use its as a possessive determiner like my, her, or their, than it is to use it as a possessive pronoun like mine, hers, or theirs.

A possessive determiner goes in the determiner slot of a larger noun phrase; there still has to be a noun later on in that noun phrase.

In contrast, a possessive pronoun is an actual substantive all by itself and so needs no noun following.

Using its in this way is possible but not common. The ᴏᴇᴅ2 calls this an absolute possessive, used when no substantive follows. They provide just one citation, from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. Here’s the full extended quote:

Then you lost
The view of earthly glory: men might say,
Till this time pomp was single, but now married
To one above itself. Each following day
Became the next day’s master, till the last
Made former wonders its.

As a possessive pronoun instead of a possessive determiner, its means “its ones”, and is marked “rare” in the ᴏᴇᴅ.

Here are some other examples taken from Google Books:

  • I was still shaking, so I couldn't tell if the vibrations the body made were its or mine.
  • The Church had different interests from powerful freemen, whose lands were subject to confiscation in a way that its were not, and rarely made ...
  • But still my eyes with maddening gaze
    Were fixed upon its fearful face,
    And its were fixed on me.
  • It was the tongue that their mothers taught them to speak, its were the words used in courtship by young men and maidens, and its accents were the last heard from relatives and friends
  • As far as lifespans go, its had been a relatively long one but that had now ended.
  • Group work is neither mine nor yours nor ours nor its.
  • I then briefly consider the state’s agenda in its own terms, or at least in terms (probably somewhere between its and ours) external to Sherpa society.
  • Multiply the amount of each bill by the time between its and the first purchase...
  • Look for vulnerabilities—its and ours.
  • Perhaps the freedom of another cannot belong to me, cannot be given by the essence of my subjectivity, cannot belong to any essence, even that of subjectivity, its or mine.
  • But it would doubtless be more accurate to affirm that its and ours are in keeping.
  • A fall 2008 tour brought fans closer to 1950s Jughead long before Juliet whacks it to death (both its and hers).
  • Thereupon, the rabbit replied that the mistake was neither its, nor of the other animals.
  • ...with the result that we never know whether the forces that bear us are its or ours—...
  • Yesterday, yet another happily newlywed couple'd taken a look at the place, open and shut cabinets, tested the blinds, its and hers and theirs; elbowed one another as they smirked at the beds...
  • 2
    The reference I found is by Nancy Fraser -- "Her subject, like its, is split into two halves..."
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 29, 2012 at 18:02
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    Anything goes in poetry. Having 'its' stand alone doesn't sound right at all.
    – Mitch
    Jul 29, 2012 at 18:03
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    @Mitch I’ve given many more examples now.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2012 at 20:16
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    @tchrist: Wow, impressive footwork! Jul 29, 2012 at 20:21
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I’ve been thinking and thinking about your comment here. On the one hand, the Google Books citations show some writers do find it grammatical. On the other, you do not—and perhaps even more interestingly, neither does Mitch, who has probably been speaking English longer than you and I put together. The OED calls this pronominal use “rare”, and there must be some reason for that rarity; maybe “sounds wrong” is why. The citations were hard for me to come up with, which I am wondering whether to attribute not only to my poor Google-fu but also to actual corporal infrequency.
    – tchrist
    Jan 2, 2015 at 18:16

That shell is not mine. Nor is it yours. It belongs to that snail over there.

That shell is its, not mine or yours.

As you can see, this construction doesn't occur often, because possession is not often attributed to neuter nouns, let alone pronouns.

  • 5
    Indeed, the OED even goes so far as to call this “rare”, not just uncommon.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2012 at 17:32
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    No. The shell is mine! Jul 30, 2012 at 8:38
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    No. It's its. :) Sep 23, 2014 at 2:19

I spent quite a while hunting around online for examples that struck me as plausible. The only ones I find acceptable have a country, government, or similar organization as the antecedent of its, along the following lines:

  1. After the attack, Germany accounted for all of its delegates satisfactorily, but France said that two of its were missing.
  2. With regard to policy changes, the government denied that any of its constituted u-turns.

Note that there is an issue of grammatical terminology here, though. These examples involve ellipsis after its (its [delegates], its [changes]). So, you might count these as instances of as determiners.

To avoid these problems, you could adapt John Lawler’s example (which really jars for me, to the extent that I’m not sure it’s grammatical for me at all; possibly a dialect difference?) to have, again, a country as the antecedent. But I’m still far from enamoured with the result:

  1. Despite Argentine belligerence, the United Kingdom asserts that the Falkland Islands are its, and that Argentine claims to the contrary are ...
  2. Spain recently attempted to raise the issue, but the United Kingdom still regards Gibraltar as its, irrevocably.
  • All seem to satisfy the requirement, but I wonder if hers, theirs, hers and hers (respectively) would be more normally used?
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 29, 2012 at 18:34
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    I believe that, in your final example, it should be Gibraltar rather than Grenada :) Jul 29, 2012 at 18:38
  • @AndrewLeach. In a formal context, yes, hers, etc. would be more common. But using her for countries feels like an affectation for me, even though I’m fully aware that it’s absolutely standard for many other speakers. Maybe something to do with my generation (of Australians?)? I’d be curious to hear whether other speakers also feel that these forms are not quite native for them. Jul 29, 2012 at 19:04
  • Good call, Daniel, on looking for “its were”, as this proves more profitable than “its are” or “its is” queries in terms of lower false positives. Ex: “In fact, unless required to work together in a particular training exercise, each force carried on its daily activity as if its were the SAF alone,...” Calvin Allen & Lynn Rigsbee. “The most important of its were firstly, the relaxation of governmental control over the local authorities in regard to the preparation and approval of budgets..” K.R. Gupta. “...would give an idea of return to nature, as its were.” Mandal. Plus many more like that.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2012 at 19:08

I admire the work done by those who have dug up such an incredible amount of examples in which "its" is used as a possessive pronoun.

However, as I'm not a native speaker of English, I normally go by the teachings of grammar books, so I looked up Swan's "Practical English Usage - Third Edition" which states :

Its is not normally used without a following noun.

I've had my breakfast, and the dog's had its breakfast too.* [NOT ... and the dog's had its.] 1

Another frequently used grammar textbook for EFL teaching is Murphy's "English Grammar in Use". On this subject the author does not go so far as to say that "its" is not used, still he does not list it along with possessive pronouns, which in my opinion is meaningful. 2

There are other grammars which share this position, on top of the indication to be found in OED, so I think it should be safe to conclude that, although the usage of "its" as a possessive pronoun is sometimes found in texts, still it is rather rare. And I would go so far as to recommend foreigners like myself to avoid using it whenever possible.

1 M. Swan "Practical English Usage" - paragraph 442 - possessives (4) pages 417-18

2 R. Murphy "English Grammar in Use" 2nd edition - Unit 81A page 162

(another reference could be Michael Vince's "Micmillan English Grammar in Context" which, when listing possessive pronouns, leaves a blank where its should be found.)

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    Sorry, I can’t agree with this. If you’re so keen on “grammars”, then let it be noted that Greenbaum’s Oxford English Grammar disagrees with you, where in section 3.26.C: Possessive pronouns on page 85 he specifically includes its when enumerating the 3rd-person possessive pronouns of English. He does add that “The independent function is rare for its.”, which he has previously defined as the standalone version that doesn’t take a noun afterwards. There’s really nothing confusing about saying “Mine are ready, but its are not.” It’s really works just like theirs.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2012 at 23:51
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    @tchrist. As I said at first, I appreciate all the information and the examples which have been listed about the possibility to use its as a possessive pronoun. At the same time, not having the support of mother-tongue knowledge, I have to rely on grammars. Unfortunately, I do not have access to the one you mention, but what it states is not very different from my conclusion, that is that "its" is rare, and I personally feel it is safer for me not to use it, in order to avoid mistakes. I never said that using it creates confusion.
    – Paola
    Jul 30, 2012 at 0:35
  • +1 Paola. For adding another reference: "We avoid using its as possessive pronoun except when we use it with own." English Grammar Today (Cambridge) says. On this its usage (possessive pronoun), in this book is reported the following example: "The house seemed asleep yet, as I have said, it had a life of its own." However a competent user said that this example is wrong.
    – user19148
    Jul 30, 2012 at 15:05
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    @tchrist, What exactly do you disagree with? "Its is not normally used without a following noun" (Swan, see above), "recommend foreigners to avoid using it whenever possible", or "sometimes found in texts, still it is rather rare."
    – Alex B.
    Oct 21, 2012 at 20:19
  • @Carlo_R. You are mistaken. "She had a life of her own". NOT She had a life of hers own or "She had a life of *hers." However you could say: "She had her own life, it was hers and nobody else's." AND *possibly: Although asleep the house seemed to possess a life of its own, not of its owners but of its."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 27, 2013 at 0:35

To complement and update tchrist's excellent answer: the new on-line version of the OED has 6 examples of "its" as a possessive pronoun:

1623 Shakespeare & J. Fletcher Henry VIII i. i. 18 Each following day Became the next dayes master, till the last Made former Wonders, it's.

1835 W. Scott Infantry Tactics II. 51 The second division has already taken its position in the column, the third has nearly taken its.

1864 M. V. Victor in W. T. Coggeshall Poets & Poetry of West 521/2
'Twas of royal rank, for all the past Was its by right of birth.

1920 E. F. Corbett Puritan & Pagan xxiv. 294 The crowd which was hers, and she its.

1932 ‘L. G. Gibbon’ Sunset Song i. 45 There are better things than your books or studies or loving or bedding, there's the countryside your own, you its, in the days when you're neither bairn nor woman.

2004 I. M. Banks Algebraist (2005) i. 8 Claiming the vengeance that was so surely its, exacting the price its enemies all deserved to pay.

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