By "possessive adjective" here I mean a fully productive form which is derived from a noun, inflected like an adjective (including agreeing with its head noun in whatever categories other adjectives do in the language), and expresses possession, or some broader set of concepts that include possession. A made-up English example would be if the boyish bicycle was the regular way of saying the boy's bicycle.

I know that Russian and other Slavic languages have such possessive adjectives, but I gather that in these languages they aren't fully productive, but are limited to certain semantic classes (e.g. names kinship terms), while the unmarked, fully productive way of expressing possession is the genitive case. I'm looking for languages in which such adjectives are the default or the only way of expressing possession.

Chukchi seems to be one such language (in fact, it has two different types of such adjectives with differing semantics). What are others?

  • In a language with a genitive case, there would be a lot of redundancy. So I'd be looking for languages that lack a genitive as such. Which I imagine are rare...
    – Cerberus
    Jun 6, 2014 at 10:48
  • @Cerberus 1) E.g. in Russian genitive and "possessive adjectives" rarely compete: одежда детей and детская одежда have different meanings; 2) languages without genitive seem to be quite widespread, especially outside of the Indo-European family.
    – alephreish
    Jun 9, 2014 at 14:00
  • Would an answer to "Which languages' genitives agree with the possessor in the same way that adjectives do?" also answer your question? Jul 12, 2015 at 14:46
  • @tepples Yes, certainly (in fact I think such genitives would fall under the definition of "possessive adjectives" I gave in the question).
    – TKR
    Jul 12, 2015 at 18:40

3 Answers 3


At least for the Standard Croatian, possessive adjectives are the default way of expressing possession. There's even a "language advice" given by the Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics, saying:

"A genitive construct used to express possession should be replaced by a possessive adjective."


As a native speaker of Croatian — a South Slavic language — I think possessives are quite productive, but there are other strategies too:

  • genitive case: kuća moje bake "my granny's house"
  • genitive case with prep. od: kuća od bake "granny's house" (not Standard)

The problem with possessive adjectives is that you cannot make them out of nouns with adjectives in Croatian, e.g. moja baka "my granny".

Some nouns have two adjectives, one for real possession, other for broad relation:

dječak "boy"

  • dječakov "boy's" (possession)
  • dječački "boyish"

I don't think having two adjectives for a single noun is really productive, since colloquial words often lack it, e.g. cura "girl" -> curin "girl's" (possession) only...

  • Can you use the possessive adjective when the possessor noun is plural? E.g. can you use it in the girls' houses? If so, is the form the same as that used for a singular possessor?
    – TKR
    Oct 5, 2014 at 20:45
  • @TKR no, generally, you cannot. It's only individual possession. For certain nouns, the broad relation adjective is used, e.g. roditeljska kuća "parents' house" (lit. "parental")
    – user4747
    Apr 3, 2015 at 9:50
  • Also, Russian детская одежда corresponds exactly to "broad relation" adjectives, while сестрина книга is the real possessive (Croatian would be sestrina knjiga, exactly like Russian, just different spelling).
    – user4747
    Apr 3, 2015 at 9:54

What I'm about to write is like not to help a lot: when I dove into Slavic languages I found out possessive adjectives are more in south Slavic languages languages: Петров стан in stead of стан Петра. In Russian it's more common in folklore songs.

  • 1
    Welcome! Can you elaborate on how this relates to the original question, and provide transliterations of the examples?
    – robert
    Jun 12, 2014 at 6:55

I'd say, among the Slavic languages at least in Russian such adjectives are quite productive and don't always "intersect" with genitive semantically. Thus:

  • детская одежда ("childish" clothes = clothes worn by children) ≠ одежда детей (clothes of children, gen)
  • сталинский режим (Stalin's regime, adj) ≠ * режим Сталина (doesn't exist or a completely different meaning)
  • мужской подход (men's approach, adj) ≈ подход мужчины (approach of [a] man, gen)
  • сестрина книга (sister's book, adj) = книга сестры (book of the sister, gen)
  • большевистская революция (bolshevists' revolution, adj) = революция большевиков (bolsheviks' revolution, gen)

Although such adjectives seem to be less productive in Yiddish, it shows a similar system. In Yiddish the genitive is generally substituted by dative with the preposition פון fun (of), although it survives as possessive for animate nouns:

  • קינדערישע קליידער (kinderishe kleyder, adj) ≠ קליידער פון (די) קינדער (kleyder fun kinder, dat)
  • מענערישער צוגאַנג (menerisher tsugang) ≈ צוגאַנג פון אַ מאַן (tsugang fun a man)
  • באָלשעוויסטישע רעוואָלוציע (bolshevistishe revolutsye, adj) = די רעוואָלצויע פון די באָלשעוויקעס (di revolutsye fun di bolshevikes, dat)
  • only סטאַלינס רעזשים (stalins rezhim, poss)
  • only דאָס בוך פון מיין שוועסטער (dos bukh fun mayn shvester, dat) or מיין שוועסטערס בוך (mayn shvesters bukh, poss)

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