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PIE word

From Middle English possessen (to have, own; to obtain possession of; to inhabit, occupy) [and other forms],[1] from Middle French possesser, possessier, Old French possesser, possessier (to have, own, possess; to dominate), from Latin possessus (possessed; seized), the perfect passive participle of possideō (to have, hold, own, possess; to have possessions; to take control or possession of, occupy, seize; to abide, inhabit, occupy; to dominate), from potis (able, capable, possible) (from Proto-Indo-European *pótis (master; ruler; husband)) + sedeō (to sit; to be seated; to be established, hold firm) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *sed- (to sit)).[2]



possess (third-person singular simple present possesses, present participle possessing, simple past and past participle possessed)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To have (something) as, or as if as, an owner; to have, to own.
      Synonym: inhold
      He does not even possess a working telephone.
      • 1651, Thomas Hobbes, “Of Spirituall Darknesse from Misinterpretation of Scripture”, in Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, London: [] [William Wilson] for Andrew Crooke, [], →OCLC, 4th part (Of the Kingdome of Darknesse), page 340:
        For men being generally poſſeſſed before the time of our Saviour, [] of an opinion, that the Souls of men were ſubſtances diſtinct from their Bodies, and therefore that when the Body was dead, the Soule of every man, whether godly, or wicked, muſt ſubſiſt ſomewhere by vertue of its own nature, without acknowledging therein any ſupernaturall gift of Gods; the Doctors of the Church doubted a long time, what was the place, which they were to abide in, till they ſhould be re-united to their Bodies in the Reſurrection; []
      • 1818, [Mary Shelley], chapter VII, in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. [], volume III, London: [] [Macdonald and Son] for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, →OCLC, page 162:
        Even where the affections are not strongly moved by any superior excellence, the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds, which hardly any later friend can obtain.
      • 1880 November 12, Lew[is] Wallace, chapter II, in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], →OCLC, book fourth, page 179:
        [T]he ship turned and made slowly for her wharf under the wall, bringing even more fairly to view the life with which the river at that point was possessed.
      • 1921, Ben Travers, chapter 1, in A Cuckoo in the Nest, London: The Bodley Head, →OCLC:
        He read the letter aloud. Sophia listened with the studied air of one for whom, even in these days, a title possessed some surreptitious allurement.
    2. Of an idea, thought, etc.: to dominate (someone's mind); to strongly influence.
    3. Of a supernatural entity, especially one regarded as evil: to take control of (an animal or person's body or mind).
      They thought he was possessed by evil spirits.
    4. (also reflexive, chiefly literary and poetic) Of a person: to control or dominate (oneself or someone, or one's own or someone's heart, mind, etc.).
      1. To dominate (a person) sexually; to have sexual intercourse with (a person).
    5. (archaic)
      1. To cause an idea, thought, etc., to strongly affect or influence (someone); to inspire, to preoccupy.
        What on earth possessed you to go walking by the quarry at midnight?
      2. To occupy the attention or time of (someone).
      3. (also literary) To obtain or seize (something); to gain, to win.
      4. (also reflexive) Chiefly followed by of or with: to vest ownership of something in (oneself or someone); to bestow upon, to endow.
        Synonym: seise
        Antonyms: dispossess, unpossess
    6. (law) To have control or possession of, but not to own (a chattel or an interest in land).
    7. (obsolete)
      1. To give (someone) information or knowledge; to acquaint, to inform.
      2. To have the ability to use, or knowledge of (a language, a skill, etc.)
      3. To inhabit or occupy (a place).
        • 1667, John Milton, “Book IV”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC, lines 426–432:
          [W]ell thou knowſt / God hath pronounc't it death to taſte that Tree, / The only ſign of our obedience left / Among ſo many ſignes of power and rule / Conferrd upon us, and Dominion giv'n / Over all other Creatures that poſſeſſe Earth, Aire, and Sea.
        • 1678, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That which is to Come: [], London: [] Nath[aniel] Ponder [], →OCLC; reprinted in The Pilgrim’s Progress (The Noel Douglas Replicas), London: Noel Douglas, [], 1928, →OCLC, page 16:
          Wherefore getting out again, on that ſide next to his own Houſe; he [Pliable] told me, I ſhould poſſeſs the brave Countrey alone for him: ſo he went his way, and I came mine.
        • 1725, [Daniel Defoe], “Part II”, in A New Voyage Round the World, by a Course Never Sailed before. [], London: [] A[rthur] Bettesworth, []; and W. Mears, [], →OCLC, page 115:
          [W]e are not willing to let any other Nation ſettle there, becauſe we would not let them ſee how weak we are, and what a vaſt Extent of Land we poſſeſs there with a few Men: []
        • 1870, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “[Poems.] The Blessed Damozel.”, in Poems, London: F[rederick] S[tartridge] Ellis, [], →OCLC, stanza 11, page 4:
          When those bells / Possessed the mid-day air, / Strove not her steps to reach my side / Down all the echoing stair?
      4. Chiefly followed by that: to convince or persuade (someone).
        • 1712, Humphry Polesworth [pseudonym; John Arbuthnot], “’’Jack’’’s Charms, or the Method by which He Gain’d ’’Peg’’’s Heart”, in John Bull Still in His Senses: Being the Third Part of Law is a Bottomless-Pit. [], London: [] John Morphew, [], →OCLC, page 12:
          By ſuch malicious Inſinuations, he had poſſeſs'd the Lady, that he was the only Man in the World, of a ſound, pure, and untainted Conſtitution: []
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To dominate sexually; to have sexual intercourse with.
    2. To inhabit or occupy a place.


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


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  1. ^ possessen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ possess, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021; “possess, v.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]