Grammar Quiz #16: Possessive Adjectives

By Mark Nichol

In the following sentences, choose the possessive adjective that agrees in number with the noun or pronoun to which it refers.

1. Only one of the children picked up ______ certificate.
a) his
b) their

2. All of the beauty candidates showed ______ best smile.
a) her
b) their

3. We all expected each contestant to remember the words of the trainer and to do ______ best in the race.
a) his
b) their

4. The European Union unites _______ countries with a single monetary standard.
a) their
b) its

5. We wanted the participants to give us _______ individual opinions.
a) their
b) his

Answers and Explanations

1. Only one of the children picked up his certificate.
a) his

The possessive adjective refers to singular one, not plural children.

2. All of the beauty candidates showed their best smile.
b) their

The pronoun all may be either singular or plural. When it refers to people or things that can be counted, it is regarded as plural. When it refers to an uncountable noun, like jewelry, it is regarded as singular. Ex: All the jewelry showed its glow in the sunlight.

3. We all expected each contestant to remember the words of the trainer and to do his best in the race.
a) his

Each contestant is singular. Most modern writers would probably recast the sentence in the plural in order to avoid offending any women who might belong to the group. Ex: We expected all contestants to remember the words of the trainer and to do their best in the race.

4. The European Union unites its countries with a single monetary standard.
b) its

In U.S. English usage, names of organizations and teams are treated as singular. Ex: The United States is located in North America.

5. We wanted the participants to give us their individual opinions.
a) their

Opinions are held individually, but participants is plural, hence their opinions is the correct choice.

Recommended for you: « ยป



6 Responses to “Grammar Quiz #16: Possessive Adjectives”

  • D.A.W.

    “In U.S. English usage, names of organizations … are treated as singular.” Yes, this is true, and it is also generally true in Canada.
    I would restate the sentence more strongly:
    In rational English usage, names of organizations … are treated as singular. (They are all collective nouns.)
    A rational Scotsman once told me that “The Commonwealth are”, and “The Commonwealth were”, are both irrational statements, and he also wrote that he had never heard either one of these.
    Furthermore, I believe that the same is/was also true for the European Union, NATO, the Organization of American States, the United Arab Emirates, the Union of South Africa, and the Confederate States of America.

  • D.A.W.

    I agree with venqax completely in his two comments.
    In particular, I agree that the “s” is needed at the end of this:
    “All of the beauty candidates showed their best smileS.”
    This one could be rephrased in a couple of different reasonable ways:
    A. “All of the beauty candidates showed her best smile.”
    B. “Each of the beauty candidates showed her best smile.”
    Now, for a somewhat unreasonable rephrasing of it.
    C. “Each and every of the beauty candidates showed her best smiles.” However, I do believe that some redundancy is often helpful in the quest for clarity.

  • venqax

    @Cesar and Chuck: I think you are both missing the mark, here. His/him IS the neutral pronoun, making another “neutral” one superfluous and further information unnecessary. That has been true for centuries. Unless we are taking lessons from various totalitarian regimes from herstory, we should not be purposely bending language to any political agenda. Even the AP? Really? That’s kind of like saying, “Even Michael Moore is looking a bit like a slob.”

  • venqax

    Shouldn’t #2 say “All of the beauty candidates showed their best smileS. “? Assuming one smile was not shared by all.

  • Cesar

    @Chuck https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they#Usage

    It’s hard to tell what your actual point is, but Singular They is not a new thing. It’s been used in English literature for centuries. It has nothing to do with gender politics but rather with neutrality in the face of lack of information.

    Was the child in #1 actually a boy or a girl? Maybe it’s not known, so I would argue that you can also use “their” to refer to him or her.

  • Chuck Hustmyre

    Two his’s as correct answers? Oh, the horror. Even the AP has thrown in the towel when it comes to defending the rules of grammar and declared “their” to be a singular pronoun. I have even read that in some far off country, England, perhaps, or Sweden, multiple uses of the incorrect pronoun in addressing someone who has decided to change “their” sex IS A CRIME.

    Most writers would be taken to the woodshed for writing sentences like numbers one and three above.

Leave a comment: