Definition of possess in English:



[with object]
  • 1Have as belonging to one; own.

    ‘I do not possess a television set’
    • ‘They were bidding everything they had, fortunes, homes, businesses, tools, their futures on possessing a prized bulb that might break.’
    • ‘Leaders have to go with the actual knowledge they possess at the time.’
    • ‘When TV Licensing officials call round, householders often claim they do not possess a television.’
    • ‘This healthy attitude derives from belonging to the Dutch Antilles and possessing the sixth biggest natural harbour in the world.’
    • ‘In some regions, one often came across innocent women branded as witches and lynched by villagers who wanted to possess the land and property belonging to the victims.’
    • ‘It is a temporary metropolis of tents, possessing every luxury, including generators, refrigerators, and (as far as I can understand) electric blankets.’
    • ‘Civil rights are the basic legal rights a person must possess in order to have such a status.’
    • ‘In the North, 34.5% own credit and charge cards with 53% possessing a cash dispenser card.’
    • ‘It, through the licensing authority, imposes a tax on anyone who possesses a television set but provides a varying range of services depending on where you live.’
    • ‘The company already lays claim to possessing the largest home delivery network in the world and the only one as yet to make a profit.’
    • ‘But if the enemy possesses chemical, radiological, bacteriological, or nuclear weapons, they need succeed only once.’
    • ‘The world is brimming with countries that possess chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.’
    • ‘Regardless, all their lives, the duke and duchess had to deny that they possessed any jewels belonging to the royal family.’
    • ‘I suspect that pressure has been put on prisoners possessing intelligence information in every war, and I think what should also keep in mind who these people might have been.’
    • ‘For travellers looking to venture off the beaten path, Wu Zhen, a water town possessing a cultural heritage of 1,000 years in north Zhejiang Province, is the place to go.’
    own, have, be the owner of, have in one's possession, be in possession of, be the possessor of, have to one's name, hold
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    1. 1.1Law Have possession of as distinct from ownership.
      ‘a two-year suspended sentence for possessing cocaine’
      • ‘But all of that is subject to the statutory defence (the burden of proof of which lies on the appellant) that he possessed them for a legitimate purpose.’
      • ‘He had pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis and cocaine.’
      • ‘The appellant pleaded guilty to an offence of possessing a prohibited weapon.’
      • ‘Shortly after the order was issued, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for possessing a firearm in violation of the statute.’
      • ‘He pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine and was conditionally discharged for two years.’
    2. 1.2 Have as an ability, quality, or characteristic.
      ‘he did not possess a sense of humour’
      ‘a fading blonde possessed of a powerful soprano voice’
      • ‘We do not possess more strength than other people.’
      • ‘Seldom does one individual possess all the talents required to meet each of these challenges.’
      • ‘Both characters possess qualities considered essential to the Hindu lifestyle, and have become role models for Hindus of both sexes.’
      • ‘All states are more or less exceptional, in the sense that they possess unique characteristics.’
      • ‘She was in her 80s and a person of impeccable character, who possessed many fine qualities, many of these endeared her to all who knew her.’
      • ‘‘Neither my wife nor I believe he should be criticised or penalised for possessing those qualities,’ he said.’
      • ‘Although different students possess varying degrees of expertise as writers, most will have something to contribute to such discussions.’
      • ‘He still possesses all the traits that made him great in the first place.’
      • ‘Females are smaller, but both male and female are tremendously powerful, possessing the ability to tear branches from bushes and uproot small trees.’
      • ‘The story is narrated by the chieftain's second son, widely regarded as an ‘idiot’ but possessing both wisdom and cunning.’
      • ‘He also possesses the ability to communicate with insects and order them to do his bidding.’
      • ‘He said potential members of the police and military had to meet certain requirements, such as being in good physical health and possessing a certain level of IQ.’
      • ‘I'm interested, but not entirely surprised, to find that green tea, which I never drink, possesses the same quality as other forms of tea.’
      • ‘Essential oils have the potential to act as antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral agents, as well as possessing the ability to alter body chemistry and therapeutic responses.’
      • ‘Major publishers are seeking authors who already possess the basic writing skills.’
      • ‘Luckily, it isn't long before he learns that a family amulet, passed down from his father, is actually a powerful gem that possesses the ability of time travel.’
      • ‘We look for the individual who possesses the ability to perform safely and effectively under stressful conditions.’
      • ‘We may be inexperienced but naivety is not a characteristic we possess in abundance.’
      • ‘Furthermore, characters who possess the supernatural qualities of deities are considered to be human.’
      • ‘You know the scenario: girl meets boy, boy has major fault in character, girl possesses necessary qualities to remedy major fault, boy recognises error of his ways, all ends well.’
      have, be blessed with, be endowed with, be gifted with, be possessed of, be born with
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    3. 1.3possess oneself ofarchaic Take for one's own.
      ‘all that the plaintiffs did was to possess themselves of the securities’
      • ‘He starts his remarks by hoping: ‘A more progressive generation of ornithologists will no doubt possess itself of higher standards for estimating the value of sub-species.’’
      • ‘If we possess ourselves of this, we have at once a standpoint for the wider survey.’
      • ‘But the Danish Viking relinquished his hold upon Bernicia and, moving south in the following year, possessed himself of the kingdom of York.’
      • ‘He asked in a refined manner, though he possessed himself of my arm and seized me by the wrist, twisting me from the ground.’
      • ‘Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.’
      acquire, obtain, get, get hold of, procure, secure, take, seize, gain possession of, take possession of, get one's hands on
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  • 2(of a demon or spirit, especially an evil one) have complete power over (someone) and be manifested through their speech or actions.

    ‘she was possessed by the Devil’
    • ‘Her family thought she was possessed by evil spirits and buried her alive.’
    • ‘He thought he was possessed by spirits and that he was going to kill his own family.’
    • ‘But there is simply no credible evidence to suggest the boy was possessed by demons or evil spirits.’
    • ‘Stepping into the clearing, the demon was almost passable for a human, and should have been, for he was possessing a corpse.’
    • ‘Jane's belief that she was possessed by spirits had its origin in a session with a Ouija board when it began to glide under her fingers and spell out messages from the Great Beyond.’
    • ‘A small boy is ostracized from his village, where they claim an evil spirit possesses him.’
    • ‘One young woman describes the pleasure of the trance she enters when possessed by the Holy Ghost.’
    • ‘Can a pharmacist refuse to fill a prescription because he or she believes the client is possessed by demons?’
    • ‘He tells us that he has met many people who have been possessed by demons, the most scary being a man who started to talk to him in a demon's voice.’
    • ‘Epileptics were supposedly possessed by spirits that threw them to the ground and tormented them with convulsions.’
    • ‘One might as well tell the patient she is possessed by demons, as give her a psychoanalytic explanation of her physical disease or disorder.’
    • ‘The white made him look as if he were possessed by some demon.’
    • ‘The dragon's spirit possessed this evil man's body, and morphed it into a vision similar to how his carcass looked when it was living, breathing.’
    • ‘The misconceptions include black magic, witchcraft, evil eye and being possessed by a spirit.’
    • ‘Once possessed by their celebrity demons, they become solitary, anti-social, impulsive and even self-destructive.’
    • ‘It looked like it was dying but was kept alive only by the will of the demons possessing its mother.’
    • ‘Lara said that demons don't possess people for long periods of time.’
    • ‘They have given rise to a deadly Dark Prince, whose spirit gradually possesses him…’
    • ‘Michelle was staring at her with her mouth hanging open, ‘What demon ever possessed you to do such a thing?’’
    • ‘He's been possessed by spirits of the dead on numerous occasions.’
    take control of, have power over, take over, have mastery over, cast a spell over, bewitch, enchant, enthral, control, dominate, influence
    mad, demented, insane, crazed, maddened, berserk, out of one's mind
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    1. 2.1 (of an emotion, idea, etc.) dominate the mind of.
      ‘I was possessed by a desire to tell her everything’
      • ‘While the words ‘vegetarian’ and ‘haggis’ have never been made to rhyme the idea possesses me with a burning curiosity.’
      • ‘Even the makers of commercial films appear to be possessed by this idea.’
      • ‘A feeling of loneliness possessed my whole being.’
      • ‘He charged down the sidewalk not slowing down; a spirit of determination and passion possessed his body sending it charging in the nearest phone booth.’
      • ‘These thoughts possessed her mind as she slipped out of the Great Hall quietly and unnoticed.’
      • ‘He got into the face of men who were killing innocent people in whatever frenzied state of mind possessed them.’
      • ‘He was always possessed by the idea that they would get at him if they could, you know, they would poison the fillings in his teeth, so paranoia stemmed out very easily from him.’
      • ‘This anxious state of mind was what possessed me as I biked towards the river.’
      • ‘The prosecution is urged to go on a fast to purge itself of whatever bad thoughts possessed it to even bring this one to trial.’
      • ‘However it got there, the idea possessed her consciousness.’
      • ‘Her chest heaved, as the fear still possessed her mind in its clutches as well as the guilt.’
      • ‘For some it's love, others jealousy, others the need of power, others wonder, and finally there are those who's greed finally possesses them to kill themselves.’
      • ‘Yet, he also understood the fear possessing Indira.’
      obsess, dominate, haunt, preoccupy, consume
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  • 3literary (of a man) have sexual intercourse with.

    ‘he just wanted her, to possess her’
  • 4archaic Maintain (oneself or one's mind or soul) in a state of patience or quiet.

    ‘I tried to possess my soul in patience’
    • ‘Do I ‘approve myself in all things as a minister of God; in much patience possessing my own soul,’ and having the government of my own spirit?’
    • ‘He confessed that "I have possessed myself in patience, but I'm fast getting too old to have any future of importance in the Army."’
    • ‘In order to freely possess oneself in such a system one must be free of dependence on the will of others.’


  • what possessed you?

    • Used to express surprise at an action regarded as extremely unwise.

      ‘what possessed you to come here?’
      • ‘Which brings me back to that question: "What possessed you to do that to your hair?"’
      • ‘What possessed you to take this test? I mean, seriously...’
      • ‘What possessed you to train for a marathon at the North Pole, one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth?’


Late Middle English: from Old French possesser, from Latin possess- ‘occupied, held’, from the verb possidere, from potis ‘able, capable’ + sedere ‘sit’.