How to Express Possession in French : Possessive De

possessive de in french

Have trouble understanding how French people express belonging?

In French, we use possessive de. Learning how to express possessive relationships can pose quite a challenge to French learners because de is a versatile preposition.

Read until the end, to learn how to express belonging and possession in French.

Preposition De

Preposition de is a versatile and essential preposition, that has many meanings and uses in French. It allows you to say “of” in French, “some” or to express an unspecified quantity.

Possession or belonging is only one of the many uses. First, let’s see some essential uses of the French preposition de, and then we’ll focus on the possessive aspect.

It can express :

  • starting point or origin

partir de Nice > to leave from Nice

  • content/description of something

un roman d’amour > love story

  • defining feature

Une salle de class> classroom

  • cause

 fatigué du voyage > tired from the trip

Try making a difference between possessive de and partitive de.

 Possessive De

In English, we use ‘s (apostrophes) to indicate that one noun possesses another. The French express possession with the preposition de.

One interesting thing is that the order of the nouns is reversed in French when compared to English. This is one of the most common mistakes English people learning French make.

For example

  1. la letter de Anne – Anne’s letter
  2. les cafés de Italy – Italians cafes
  3. le travail des ingénieurs – the engineer’s work


If the owner is not a proper name like in the case of Anne and Italie,  then the possessive de must be preceded by a modifier (article, possessive adjective, demonstrative adjective).

When the owner is plural, as signified by s’ (s apostrophe) in English, the French modifier must be plural too.

la voiture de mes voisins – the car of my neighbors

The possessive de can’t be used with stressed pronouns: they require the possessive à.

Contracted De

As you know, the preposition de is often followed by the definite article.

la maison de la voisine– the neighbor’s house

When followed by the definite articles le and lesde contracts with them into a single word. But de does not contract with la or l’

It contract’s in these two cases

de + le / du

C’est le café du mon ami.

It’s my friend’s coffee.

de + les / des

In the case of a feminine definite article, (la) and omitted article l’, no contraction happens.

La territoire  des animaux.

Animal territory.

de + la / de la

C’est la maison de la voisine.

It’s a neighbor’s house.

de + l’ / de l’

Le travail de l’ingénieur.

The engineer’s work.

In addition, de does not contract with le and les when they are direct objects.

The possessive de construction is also equivalent to a descriptive noun + noun in English.

les clés de voiture – car keys

du jus d’orange – orange juice

French is sometimes more precise thanks to this construction, as it makes a distinction that is missing in English.

En can replace de + noun

De + a noun, can be replaced by the adverbial pronoun en.

For example

J’ai besoin du stylo. J’en ai besoin.

I need it.

Pay Attention to the Word Order

It’s never enough repeating that the word order in English and French doesn’t follow the same pattern. It’s especially true when it comes to expressing possession.

Let’s see an example

Le maillot de bain de ma mère.

My mother’s swimming suit.

La maison de mes cousins.

My cousins’ house.

You noticed that the thing owned comes at the end,

Tell me What do You Own in French

We hope this lesson helped you eliminate some common mistakes French learners make when expressing possession.

Mixing possessive de with preposition de in French is a common mistake. Once you understand the difference, take time to practice, and you’ll see how everything comes into place.

To expand on your knowledge, read about the French possessive adjectives.

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