Possessive affix

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Note: this article does not concern affixes which turn a noun into a possessive, such as the English -'s. For these, see English possessive, and more generally, Possessive.

In linguistics, a possessive affix is a suffix or prefix attached to a noun to indicate its possessor, much in the manner of possessive adjectives. Possessive suffixes are found in some Uralic, Altaic, Semitic, and Indo-European languages. Complicated systems are found in the Uralic languages; for example, Nenets has 27 (3×3×3) different forms to distinguish the possessor (first, second, third person), the number of possessors (singular, dual, plural) and the number of objects (singular, dual, plural). This allows Nenets speakers to express the phrase "many houses of us two" in one word[1]. Mayan languages and Nahuan languages also have possessive prefixes.

Possessive suffixes in various languages[edit]

Finnish[edit]

Finnish is one language that uses possessive suffixes. The number of possessors and their person can be distinguished for the singular and plural, except for the third person. However, the construction hides the number of possessed objects when the singular objects are in nominative or genitive case and plural objects in nominative case; käteni may mean either "my hand" (subject or direct object), "of my hand" (genitive) or "my hands" (subject or direct object). For example, the following are the forms of talo (house), declined to show possession:

person number Finnish word English phrase
first-person singular taloni my house(s)
plural talomme our house(s)
second-person singular talosi your (sing.) house(s)
plural talonne your (pl.) house(s)
third-person talonsa his/her/their house(s)

The grammatical cases are not affected by the possessive suffix, except for the accusative case (-n or unmarked), which is left unmarked by anything but the possessive suffix. The third-person suffix is used only if the possessor is the subject. For example, Mari maalasi talonsa "Mari painted her house", cf. the use of the genitive case in Toni maalasi Marin talon "Toni painted Mari's house". (The -n on the word talon is the accusative case homophonic to the genitive case.)

For emphasis or clarification, the possessor can be given outside the word as well, using the genitive case. In this case, the possessive suffix remains. For example, my house can be taloni or minun taloni, where minun is the genitive form of the first-person singular pronoun.

Omission of the possessive suffix makes it possible to distinguish the plural for the possessed objects, although this is not considered proper language; e.g. mun käsi "my hand" vs. mun kädet "my hands". Systematic omission of possessive suffixes is found in spoken Finnish, wherever a pronoun in the genitive is used. However, this is found only in direct address, e.g. "Their coats are dry" is Niiden takit on kuivia (niiden lit. "they's"). Contrast this with indirect possession, as in "They took their coats", where the possessive suffix is used: Ne otti takkinsa. Even in proper Finnish, the pronouns sen and niiden, (which are the demonstrative as well as inanimate forms of hänen and heidän,) do not impose possessive suffixes except indirectly – it would be hypercorrect to ever say niiden talonsa. There is also a distinction in meaning in the third person depending on whether or not the third person possessive pronoun is used:

He ottivat (omat) takkinsa. = "They took their (own) coats." (The possessor cannot be mentioned, even for emphasis, when it the same as the subject.)
He ottivat heidän takkinsa. = "They took their (others') coats." (When a third person pronoun is mentioned as the possessor, it must refer to someone other than the subject of the sentence.)

Hungarian[edit]

Hungarian is another Uralic language, distantly related to Finnish. It follows approximately the same rules as given above for Finnish, except that it has no genitive case. So, to say (for example), "Maria's house," one would say Mária háza (where háza means "her/his/its house").

See also Possessive suffixes in the article Hungarian grammar (noun phrases).

Arabic[edit]

Arabic, a Semitic language, uses personal suffixes, also classified as enclitic pronouns, for the genitive and accusative cases of the personal pronouns. The genitive and accusative forms are identical, except for the 1st person singular, which is in genitive and -nī in accusative case. They can be used with nouns, expressing possession, with prepositions, which require the genitive case, or with verbs, expressing the object. Examples for personal suffixes expressing possession, using the word بيت bayt(u) (house) as a base:

person singular dual plural
1st person بيتي baytī my house بيتنا baytunā our house
2nd person (masc.) بيتك baytuka your house بيتكما baytukumā your (du.) house بيتكم baytukum your house
2nd person (fem.) بيتك baytuki your house بيتكن baytukunna your house
3rd person (masc.) بيته baytuhu his house بيتهما baytuhumā their (du.) house بيتهم baytuhum their house
3rd person (fem.) بيتها baytuhā her house بيتهن baytuhunna their house

Hebrew[edit]

In Hebrew, another Semitic language, possessive suffixes are optional; they are more common in formal, archaic, or poetic language, and they are also more common on certain nouns than on others. For instance, our home can be written ביתנו (beiteinu). However, the following are some different ways to express possession, using the word bayit (house) as a base:

  • my house: beiti (house-my), ha-bayit sheli (the-house of-me)
  • your (masc., sing.) house: beitkha (house-your), ha-bayit shelkha (the-house of-you)
  • Adam's house: beit Adam (house-of Adam), beito shel Adam (house-his of Adam), ha-bayit shel Adam (the-house of Adam)

Persian[edit]

In Persian, which is an Indo-European language, possessive suffixes are found:

person Suffix
1st person singular -am
2nd person singular -at
3rd person singular -aš
1st person plural -emân
2nd person plural -etân
3rd person plural -ešân

e.g. pedar-am my father; barâdar-aš his/her brother

Tamazight[edit]

Central Morocco Tamazight's use of possessive suffixes mirrors that of many other Afro-Asiatic languages.

Possessive Suffixes[1]
Person Possessive
suffix
(Ayt Ayache) (Ayt Seghrouchen)
I /-(i)nw/1
you (ms) /-nʃ/ /-nːs/
you (fs) /-nːm/
he /-ns/ /-nːs/
she
we /-nːɣ/ /-nːx/
you (mp) /-nːun/
you (fp) /-nːkʷnt/ /-nːʃnt/
they (m) /-nsn/ /-nːsn/
they (f) /-nsnt/ /-nːsnt/
  1. -inw is used when the noun ends in a consonant

Independent possessives are formed by attaching the possessive suffixes to /wi-/ (if the object possessed is masculine) or /ti-/' (for feminine), e.g. /winw/ ('mine').

Turkish[edit]

person singular Translation plural Translation
1st person evim my house evimiz our house
2nd person evin your house eviniz your house
3rd person evi his/her house evleri their house

Bahasa Melayu[edit]

In the Malay language (Bahasa Melayu), the following suffixes can be added to nouns to indicate possession.

Person Example Translation
1st person negaraku (contraction of negara aku) my country
2nd person negaramu (contraction of negara kamu) your country
3rd person negaranya his/her country

Not all pronouns are added in this way; most are written as separate words. For example, your country can also be written as negara anda or negara engkau, and our country as negara kita (if the reader is included) or negara kami (if the reader is excluded).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Abdel-Massih, Ernest T. (1971). A Reference Grammar of Tamazight. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. pp. 35–40, 46, 77–80. 
  1. ^ (Finnish) Johanna Laakso. Uralilaiset kansat. Tietoa suomen sukukielistä ja niiden puhujista. WSOY 1991.

See also[edit]