We know his can be used as pronoun and as determiner. But i am confused about how to decide whether it used as determiner or pronoun

for example

he said that john was his father

Is "his" a pronoun or a determiner here?

  • 1
    It's a determiner because it determines whose father is him. And this rule of thumb I learned from school: if you can substitute it with "the", then it's a determiner. "He was the father". I don't think it's a blanket rule but it normally works. Apr 17, 2017 at 13:50
  • @user178049 : Is it whose father is him or whose father is he . I am a bit confused would you please explain ? Thanks
    – EngFan
    Apr 17, 2017 at 14:19
  • @EngFan Good eyes. That is a mistake, it's "whose father he is" :) Apr 17, 2017 at 14:22
  • @EngFan Hey i edited my question.
    – beginner
    Apr 17, 2017 at 14:24
  • 1
    It's both. You're confusing category (part of speech) and function. Pronouns belong to the part of speech category 'noun'; other categories being verb adjective, adverb etc.,while 'determiner' is a function, like subject, object, complement etc. That means that a pronoun can function as a determiner, as in your example where "his" is a pronoun functioning as a determiner.
    – BillJ
    Apr 17, 2017 at 17:19

2 Answers 2


Pronouns take the place of a noun.

So if you see his immediately followed by a noun, it's very likely a determiner, because two nouns in a row without a conjunction doesn't work.

Also if you can replace his with an article, such as a/an or the, and the sentence still makes sense, it's a determiner.

  • 1
    Actually, pronouns take the place of noun phrases, not bare nouns. For example, when you change the sentence "I saw the boy" to use a third-person pronoun, it becomes "I saw him" (not "I saw the him"). The pronoun "him" replaces the noun phrase "the boy". Pronouns in English are inflected for case: "him" is used to replace noun phrases that are in objective-case contexts while "he" is used for subjective case. "His" is the genitive case pronoun: it replaces genitive noun phrases such as "the boy's" in "[the boy's] father" > "[his] father".
    – sumelic
    Apr 17, 2017 at 17:52
  • I guess I got caught up in thinking about something like, "You have enough ice cream, don't take any more of his."
    – LawrenceC
    Apr 17, 2017 at 17:54

I think it is both. It is a pronoun because it replaces a noun phrase:

  • [Andrew's] father > [his] father
  • [the boy's] father > [his] father

It fills the determiner/determinative slot in the syntax of the sentence: it cannot be used with an article like "the" or "a":

  • *the his father
  • *a his father

So "his" could also be said to belong to the word class or part of speech "determiner/determinative."

However, if you have to say one or the other, I would go with pronoun, since it is already a rule in English syntax that noun phrases (when put into the -'(s)-genitive construction) can play the determiner/determinative syntactic role.

(Some sources use "determiner" for the function and "determinative" for the word class, other sources use "determinative" for the function and "determiner" for the word class.)

  • May be "his" is both pronoun and determiner here. But is it apply only to "his" Or in all cases . for example "This pen is mine". Is "this" a determiner only or both
    – beginner
    Apr 18, 2017 at 15:46
  • @beginner: "this" is a demonstrative. Like "his," it can be used either as a determiner or as an independent noun phrase.
    – sumelic
    Apr 18, 2017 at 18:38

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