Lesson Five: Introduction to Possessives

The possessive form is an important foundational aspect of Mongolian that goes far beyond expressing ownership, and the concepts introduced in this lesson appear again and again as you learn more and more of the language. In this lesson, however, the basic concepts are introduced. These are possessive pronouns like "my", "your", or "her" and more general possessives like "car's", "Tom's", or "Mongolia's." In addition, the use of the possessive form to express a similar meaning to "of" in English is introduced.

The following video provides an introduction to the basics of using the possessive form.

Introduction to Possessives

The first step is memorizing the possessive forms of the personal pronouns.

In normal conversation Mongolians generally use the words "миний", "таны", and "чиний" to refer to things or people that are exclusively owned by a single person. For example, "Миний нэр Бат." Bat exclusively owns his name, so using "миний" is correct usage. Contrast this with things that people may not exclusively possess such as a mother or father. In these cases, it is common to use the words "манай" and "танай" to refer to things and people. So, instead of saying "миний ээж", it is common to say "манай ээж". Here are some other examples:

манай гэр - our/my home
танай аав - your father
манай багш - our/my teacher

There are a lot of common Mongolian names, and Mongolians generally do not have surnames. This means that sometimes it is not clear which "Энхбаатар" (a common man's name) or "Жаргал" (a common man or woman's name) someone is referring to. People might clear up the confusion by saying something like "you know, short Enkhbaatar" or "annoying Jargal," referring to some trait that distinguishes that particular person. Or, they might say "манай Энхбаатар" or "танай Жаргал" to help zero in on the specific person they are referring to. If you are lucky enough to live in a Mongolian community, you might begin to overhear people referring to you using "манай <your name> ". It is a sign that people respect you and consider you a part of the community. It is also a lot better than being referred to as "annoying <your name>".

The rules for creating general possessives look very complicated, but it is important to think of them as "spelling rules" rather than "grammar rules." The key is to notice that most possessives involve attaching an "ii" like sound to the end of words, and really that is not too different from adding an "s" sound with "apostrophe s" to the end of words to express the same meaning in English. As you learn more Mongolian you will become more comfortable with the rules and become able to create possessives without having to refer to the chart below. Until then, the most important thing to focus on is being able to think of words that end in "ii" like sounds as possible candidates for words in their possessive forms. You don't need to memorize the chart faithfully, but you should take time to get a sense of the rules presented.

Rules for Constructing Possessives
Condition Explanation
Male vowels Female vowels  
-ны -ний Added onto words ending with long vowels. Example: дуу+ны, ширээ+ний
Exceptions: цонх+ны, цүнх+ний, мод+ны, шал+ны, хоол+ны, үүл+ний, утас+ны


Added onto words ending with short vowels. Example: уул+ын, хана+ын, зураг+ийн

Exceptions: people related words ending in long vowels - Даваа+/г/+ийн, дүү+/г/+ийн
Male words ending in ж, ч, ш, и, ь, г require the “–ийн” ending.
-ы -ий

Added onto words that end in “н”. Example: сонин+ы, үнэн+ий, амьтaн+ы

Exceptions: байшин+/г/+ийн, дүн+/г/+ийн

Added onto words that end in pair vowels (diphthongs). Example: нохой+н, могой+н, ой+н, далай+н, гахай+н

Let's look at some examples of actual possessives, and compare them to the rules in the chart above.

дуу --> дууны
ширээ --> ширээний
цонх --> цонхны
цүнх --> цүнхний
мод --> модны
шал --> шалны
хоол --> хоолны
үүл --> үүлний
утас --> утасны
уул --> уулын
хана --> ханын (note the second "a" is dropped)
зураг --> зургийн (note the second "a" is dropped)
Даваа --> Даваагийн (note for a person's name the long vowel rule is not followed)
дүү --> дүүгийн (note for a word referring to a person the long vowel rule is not followed)
сонин --> сонины
үнэн --> үнэний
амьтaн --> амьтaны
байшин --> байшингийн (note the г)
дүн --> дүнгийн (note the г)
нохой --> нохойн
могой --> могойн
ой --> ойн
далай --> далайн
гахай --> гахайн

As mentioned above, the possessive form has uses well beyond expressing ownership. One such example of this is expressing relationships much the same way the word "of" is used in English. Some common examples are:

Монгол улсын их сургууль - National University of Mongolia
Монгол улсын их хурал - The Parliament of Mongolia
Англи хэлний толь бичиг - Dictionary of English Language

The reality is that Mongolian has no word equivalent to "of," and the possessive form is often used to express relationships and also apply descriptive attributes to objects. These may act like adjectives or even act as compound phrases with their own meaning. For example:

Засгийн газар - government (lit. administration's place)
баярын мэндчилгээ - holiday greeting (lit. holiday's greeting)
Газрын зураг - map (lit. ground's picture)

This form of usage is extremely common, and it will continue to pop up as you learn the language. It is not easy to always translate Mongolian into English because the two languages are grammatically quite different, and this is one of the areas where the English speaking learner of Mongolian has to open his/her mind to new ways of expressing complex meaning. Possessives have limited function in English, but in Mongolian they are used in both the limited way they are in English and much more complex ways than an English speaker might expect from experience with his/her own language. An open mind will learn much quicker than one stubbornly adhering to the "English way" of doing things.

Exercise: Possessives
Instructions: Match the words in their possessive form in the righthand column with the best word in the lefthand column.
  1. монгол хэлний (_b_)
  2. ширээний (__)
  3. самбарын (__)
  4. далайн (__)
  5. Батын (__)
  6. утасны (__)
  7. гэрийн (__)
  1. алчуур
  2. ном
  3. хаяг
  4. хөл
  5. дугаар
  6. машин
  7. байцаа
Click here for the answers...

Using the knowledge introduced so far, let's construct a very useful expression. How would you ask someone his/her name? You know how to ask an open-ended question. You know the question words "юу" and "хэн". Mongolian is slightly different than English, so take note that хэн is the right word to use in this case instead of "юу". Mongolian speakers say "who is your name?" rather than "what is your name?" Finally, you know how to say "your," and you may have noticed above the word for "name" is "нэр". Can you put it all together to ask someone his/her name? Take a second and try before looking at the answer below.

Таны нэр хэн бэ? (lit. Your name who?)

That is the simplest way you can ask someone his/her name. Can you say your own name? Yes, because you know all the right words and rules to do it.

Миний нэр <your name>. (lit. My name <your name>)
Or, Би <your name>. (lit. I [am] <your name>)

The next set of exercises draws on some of the concepts already covered in previous lessons in addition to the possessive form. Completing them requires putting the various rules you've learned so far together.

Exercise: Questions and Possessives
Instructions: Fill in the blanks with appropriate “who” and “what” vocabulary or question particles for both the questions (right colum) and answers (left column). There may be more than one correct way to fill the blanks for some of the questions and answers.
  1. Энэ _____ вэ?
  2. Тэр_____ вэ?
  3. Энэ цонх_____?
  4. Тэр хүн, таны _____ үү?
  5. Тэр _____. бэ?
  6. Тэр _____ уу, _____ уу?
  7. Энэ _____ харандаа юу?
  8. Түүний нэр _____ бэ?
  9. Та оюутан _____?
  10. Таны аав эмч _____?
  1. Энэ _____.
  2. Тэр _____.
  3. Биш, энэ _____.
  4. Тийм, миний _____.
  5. Миний _____.
  6. Тэр _____.
  7. Үгүй, миний _____.
  8. _____ Бат.
  9. Тийм, би _____.
  10. Үгүй, _____.
Click here for the answers...
  1. Энэ __юу__ вэ? (хэн also works)
  2. Тэр __юу__ вэ? (хэн also works)
  3. Энэ цонх __уу__?
  4. Тэр хүн, таны__ээж__үү? (many possible words work)
  5. Тэр __юу__ бэ? (хэн also works)
  6. Тэр __ах__ уу, __найз__ уу?
  7. Энэ __таны__ харандаа юу?
  8. Түүний нэр __хэн__ бэ? (only хэн works for this question)
  9. Та оюутан __уу__?
  10. Таны аав эмч __үү__?
  1. Энэ __цонх__. (many possible answers)
  2. Тэр __сургууль__.(many possible answers)
  3. Биш, энэ __ширээ__. (many possible answers)
  4. Тийм, миний __ээж__.
  5. Миний __нохой__. (many possible answers)
  6. Тэр __ах__. (many possible answers)
  7. Үгүй, миний __үзэг__.
  8. __Түүний нэр __Бат__.
  9. Тийм, би __оюутан__.
  10. Үгүй, __ эмч биш __.
Exercise: Questions and Possessives
Instructions: Answer the questions. There is more than one way to answer some of the questions, so answer as best as you can.
  1. Чиний нэр хэн бэ?
  2. Та нарын багш хэн бэ?
  3. Бат оюутан уу, багш уу?
  4. Энэ таны охин уу?
  5. Тэр юу вэ? Уул уу, үүл үү?
  6. Тэр хүн хэн бэ?
  7. Энэ танай нохой юу?
  8. Таны ээж эмч үү?
  9. Танай анги энэ үү, тэр үү?
Click here for the answers...
Exercise: Questions and Possessives
Instructions: Create questions that match the answers. There is more than one question for some of the answers, so create the best question you can.
  1. ________________________
    Би Бат.
  2. ________________________
    Үгүй, тэр багш.
  3. ________________________
    Тэр самбар.
  4. ________________________
    Энэ миний дүү.
  5. ________________________
    Биш, түүний найз.
  6. ________________________
    Тийм, манай сургууль.
Click here for the answers...

The possessive form will continue to appear in the lessons going forward. Take time to get comfortable with its usages, and challenge yourself to identify words in the possessive form as you encounter new parts of the language. The cultural highlight below contains several words in their possessive forms. Can you identify them all?