In the comments section of his piece in the Guardian on the Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar test Michael Rosen has been getting some flak for his way of talking about possessive determiners and pronouns:
Children and teachers will be entitled to be muddled if they’ve been taught that “my”, “your”, “her”, “his” and “their” are also “determiners” because in question 46 they turn up as “possessive pronouns”. (Both terms are right, but this double terminology is confusing for 11-year-olds.)
Here’s an example of a critical comment:
“My”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “our” and “their” are not possessive pronouns. Pronouns take the place of a noun, so the corresponding pronouns are “mine”, “yours”, “his”, “hers”, “ours” and “theirs”.
And here’s Rosen’s response:
In the thread above, this matter has been addressed about twenty times. Some grammarians refer to ‘my’ etc as ‘possessive pronouns’, some don’t. You have illustrated one of the points of my article: viz., there is disagreement on this matter of terminology. Please google ‘possessive pronoun’ and see how long it takes you to find the two alternative ways of using that term.
Was Rosen right to say that my, your, her, his, our and their are determiners and pronouns at the same time? The answer depends on whether or not you follow the National Curriculum (NC). If you do, then the answer is ‘yes’. However, the only way to find out is to look at the (non-statutory) NC Glossary. Here are the entries for ‘pronoun’ and ‘determiner’:
How does this show that my, your, her, his, our and their are determiners and pronouns at the same time? Well, because examples involving these words crop up in both glossary entries. The conclusion must be that they belong to two word classes at the same time. The same is true, incidentally, for the ‘demonstratives’, e.g. this/these, that/those, and some other items. Other linguists have described this area of grammar differently, but the National Curriculum’s approach seems to be a sensible compromise. (Though perhaps a better word class label for these items would be determiner-pronoun, as has been suggested by some linguists.)
Rosen has a point that all this can cause confusion. If you do as he suggests and google ‘possessive pronoun’ you will indeed find many different answers, many of them not written by experts, and you’ll be overwhelmed by what you read. Don’t use Google to look up grammatical terminology. Try the Englicious Glossary instead. It’s linked to the NC.
Whatever you may think of the National Curriculum, one of its advantages is that it tries to bring some order to grammatical terminology. To my mind we need more: a National Curriculum Grammar in the shape of a concise overview of the grammar of English which makes issues like the one discussed here more explicit.
To find out more about determiners and pronouns have a look at these short videos, which you can use in your classroom. They are available on the Englicious YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/engliciousgrammar):