A possessive relation is an asymmetric relation R between two entities (referents) X and Y which is constituted as follows:

  1. X is typically highly empathic and, consequently, non-relational.
  2. Y is typically lower in empathy than X.
  3. In the unmarked case, Y is relational.
  4. Beyond condition #3, the intension of R is typically empty; i.e., it typically reduces to Y's relationality.

If #1 and #2 are fulfilled, then X typically controls Y.

X is the possessor, Y is the possessum (or possessed or possessee).

A possessive construction is a construction constituted by a possessive relation.

is a focal instance by this definition:

.my hand (possessor: I; possessum: hand)
.Linda's mother (possessor: Linda; possessum: mother)
.the top of the tree (possessor: tree; possessum: top).

does not fulfill condition #2. does not fulfill condition #1.

In all of , the possessive relation is used in reference.

If there are, in a language, two constructions of possessive reference which differ in the fulfillment of #3, then

Constructions that do not fulfill one or more of the definitory conditions may be less prototypically possessive. They are typically more complex structurally. Most important among these are constructions in which a possessive relation is predicated, as in (possessor: I; possessum: house):

.I have a house
.the house belongs to me
.the house is mine

The term ‘possession’ applies


Lehmann, Christian 2002, Possession in Yucatec Maya. Second, revised edition. Erfurt: Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität (ASSidUE, 10) [download]