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Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns express the fact that one entity is owned by or belongs to one or another. They are elements such as myn my or mines mine. Though traditionally called pronouns, they have at first sight little in common with pronouns. However, they refer to NPs and can occur as their place-holders. Possessives such as myn occur as attributive elements in noun phrases, as in myn man my husband. The possessive mines, by contrast, is used predicatively; it appears as an independent noun phrase (NP), e.g. in copular constructions such as dat binne dyn wurden, net mines those are your words, not mine.

Possession involves two entities, a possessor (the object that expresses a possessive relation) and a possessum (the object or person possessed). Attributely used possessives in Frisian show agreement with the possessor (made explicit below by mentioning the corresponding personal pronoun) but not with the possessum noun, in person, number and - for third person possessors - gender ((1c) and (1d)). For singular possessors, we get the following options:

a. (I and) myn man/hûs/redens
(I and) my husband/house/skates
b. (Do en) dyn man/hûs/redens
(You and) your husband/house/skates
c. (Hy en) syn man/hûs/redens
(He and) his husband/house/skates
d. (Hja en) har man/hûs/redens
(She and) her husband/house/skates

It is also possible that the possessive pronoun is stranded, i.e. that the possessee noun is not expressed. If that is the case, the pronoun receives a special ending (cf. a form like mine in English):

Dizze tas is brún, mar mines is swart
This bag is brown, but mine is black

Possessive pronouns can occur in a combination of two NPs, as an alternative to the possessive construction with the former genitive ending -s:

a. Marc syn fyts
Marc poss.3sg.m bike
Marc's bike
b. Myn ferstoarne mem har broer
poss.1sg died mother poss.3sg.f brother
My late mother's brother

If the identity of the possessor is clear from the context, then a possessive relation can also be expressed by a definite article:

Hja kjimt it hier
she combs the hair
She combs her hair

The paradigm of possessives shows three grammatical features: person, gender and number. The table below gives the paradigm.

Table 1
Person Singular Plural
1st person myn mine ús our
2nd person jim(me) yours
informal dyn yours
polite jo yours
3rd person har/harren theirs
masculine syn his
feminine har hers
Dutch influence

In Dutch (see possessive pronouns in Dutch), there is an exceptional situation for plural possessors: if the possessor is 1st person plural, the gender and number of the possessum noun also have an influence on the form of the possessive ((5a) and (5b)); the possessive pronoun is inflected as an adjective. Such inflection does not exist in Frisian, see (c):

a. ons huis
our house.SG
our house
b. onze ouders
our parents.PL
our parents
c. *úze âlden
our parents.PL
our parents

However, under Dutch influence the inflected form úze is used in Frisian more and more.

In elliptic constructions, possessive pronouns are not allowed in their canonical form:

*Wy nimme net syn auto mar myn
we take not his car but my ___
We do not take his care but mine

Instead, the language user has to invoke a special form of the pronouns, the free possessives. These special forms of the pronous are used in elliptical constructions:

Wy nimme net syn auto mar mines
we take not his car but mine-es
We do not take his car but mine

For all persons, both singular and plural, this special form can be built with the help of a suffix -es. The paradigm is given in the table below:

Table 2
Person Singular Plural
1st person mines mine uzes ours
2nd person jimmes yours
informal dines yours
polite jowes yours
3rd person harres hers
masculine sines his
feminine harres hers

Alongside the suffix -es various alternatives are available for the three singular forms ending in /n/ (myn, dyn, syn). They mainly consist of the suffixes -en or -t, for instance in minen or mynt. Besides, stacking of these suffixes is possible, also in combination with -es. So we also have the forms minent, mynten and myntes.

The indefinite pronoun men one, you also has a possessive counterpart, which is jins. In elliptical use, this displays a form ending in -es or -en: jinnes or jinnen. In addition, but contrary to the other possessive pronous, the base form jins may also occur elliptically. The form *jint does not occur.


The information on elliptical forms is mainly based on Dyk (2011). More details in Hoekstra (1988).


Possessive pronouns occur in two functions in the sentence, either attributively within the noun phrase (e.g. myn my) or as free possessives (e.g. mines mine). The possessive pronouns always stand in front of the noun (e.g. myn hûs my house, *hûs myn my house).

The choice between the forms of the attributive possessive is determined by the person and number feature of the possessor; in the third person singular, gender is an additional factor. Male persons are referred to by syn his, sines his etc, and female persons have har her and harres her. If the possessor is a person referred to by a neuter gender noun, the possessive does not have the expected neuter gender. Instead, the masculine or feminine possessive is used, depending on the gender of the person.

Dat famke is mei *syn/har feint kaam
that girl.N is with his/her friend come
That girl has come with her boyfriend

In Frisian, animals are always referred to by way of the male possessive pronoun syn his etc., even if an animal of female gender is involved, for instance:

de ko syn/*har tosken
the cow his/her teeth
the cow's teeth

Likewise, inanimates always have syn his. For example, one could refer to the mast of a boat boat (common gender) or skip ship (neuter) as syn mêst, but not as *har mêst (possibly, as this is an instance of inalienable possession, the definite article as in de mêst should be prefered here; see the section on inalienable possession below).

A possessive relation can also be expressed by adding a suffix -s to the noun:.

a. Fryslâns marren
Friesland.poss lakes
the lakes of Friesland
b. Hoekstra's artikel
Hoekstra.poss article
the article written by Hoekstra

This suffix is dealt with more extensively in the topic on nominal case (see also Hoekstra (1989)).

The use of this suffix is restricted, however. The following expression, for example, is not possible:

*de hûns sturt
the dog.poss tail
the tail of the dog

However, the alternative of a construction consisting of the possessor noun plus a possessive pronoun is available, but in only combination with animate possessors:

a. de hûn syn sturt
the dog his tail
The tail of the dog
b. Hoekstra syn artikel
Hoekstra his article
The article written by Hoekstra
c. *Fryslân syn marren
Friesland his lakes
The lakes of Friesland

In the examples given in (12), however, it is always possible to use the alternative of a periphrastic construction with the preposition fan of:

de marren fan Fryslan
the lakes of Friesland
The lakes of Friesland
it artikel fan Hoekstra
the article of Hoekstra
The article written by Hoekstra
de sturt fan de hûn
the tail of the dog
The dog's tail

The possessor in the double NP construction as in (14a) can be questioned: the possessor is replaced by the relevant interrogative pronoun wa who, as in sentence (14b). In expressing the same question, also the genitive form waans whose of the interrogative pronoun (14c) could be used (see also interrogative pronouns):

a. de boargemoaster syn hûs
the mayor his house
the mayor's house
b. Wa syn hûs?
who his house
Whose house?
c. Waans hûs?
whose house
Whose house?

Waans cannot be used independently. In ellipsis, a construction of wa plus the usual elliptic forms of the possessive pronoun has to be used:

a. *Waans is dat?
Whose is that?
b. Wa sines is dat?
Whose is that?
Close family

The possessive relation with one's closest relatives (parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, children) is not expressed with a singular pronoun like myn my, but rather with a plural like ús our:

*myn/ús heit
my/our father
my father
*myn/ús âlden
my/our parents
my parents

Likewise, one can speak of ús Jan my brother Jan or jim pake your.PL grandfather your grandfather.

However, under the influence from Dutch, but possibly also because the role of the family in society is decreasing, expressions like myn heit and myn âlders can be heard more and more nowadays.

[+]Inalienable possession

Inalienable possession means that entities like body parts, clothes and parts of clothes and also relatives do not exist apart from a possessor. In Frisian, it is possible that this possessive relation with the noun is expressed by the definite article (see also Hoekstra (1991)):

Jan wasket de fuotten
Jan washes the feet
Jan washes his feet

In the example above, in which a possessive pronoun is not used, it is clear that de fuotten the feet are Jan's own feet. In the example below syn fuotten his feet are the feet of someone else:

Jan wasket syn fuotten
Jan.N washes his.poss feet
Jan washes the feet of him

Nowadays, under influence from Dutch, this can also be interpreted as Jan's own feet. Besides, it is possible to say

Jan wasket him de fuotten
Jan washes him the feet
Jan washes his feet

This sentence is ambiguous. The first possibility is that him is coreferential with Jan, and hence it's Jan's feet that are washed. In the other, i.e. benefactive, reading, him is not coreferential with Jan, and then the feet belong to someone else.

However, this use of a definite article is only possible in inalienable possession and not with nouns expressing a non-living entity. In sentences like (21) the article de does not obligatorily express a possessive relation with Jan:

Jan fervet de stoel
Jan paints the chair
Jan paints the/his chair

This is because de stoel the chair stands in a less direct relationship with Jan then fuotten feet. It is clear that fuotten belong to a human being, but the chair does not necessarily belong to the person who paints it. The example Jan fervet him de stoel can only have a benefactive reading in which Jan is painting a chair for somebody else.


See for more details of inalienable possession the topics on relational nouns, inalienable possession and coreference and syntactic binding in the part on Frisian syntax.

  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1988Dit is myntesFriesch Dagblad02-01Taalsnipels 58
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1989De hûn syn sturtFriesch Dagblad07-01Taalsnipels 93
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1991Besitlike lidwurdenFriesch Dagblad15-06Taalsnipels 189
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