English

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Etymology

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PIE word
*pótis

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]

Pronunciation

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Verb

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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.
      • 1951 September, B. D. J. Walsh, “The Sudbury and Haverhill Line, Eastern Region”, in Railway Magazine, page 619:
        Here the line is joined by the Colne Valley branch, and both tracks are carried into Haverhill station upon a high embankment from which the town can be seen on the south side. The twin tracks, after traversing a scissors crossover, become the down and up roads through the station, which possesses an extensive goods yard.
    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.
      • c. 1601–1602 (date written), William Shakespeare, “Twelfe Night, or What You Will”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act III, scene iv], page 268, column 1:
        If all the diuels of hell be drawne in little, and Legion himſelfe poſſeſt him, yet Ile ſpeake to him.
      • 1612, Thomas Dekker, “If It Be Not Good, the Diuel is In It. []”, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker [], volume III, London: John Pearson [], published 1873, →OCLC, Act III, scene ii, page 309:
        I ſtand centinell perdu, and ſomebody dyes if I ſleepe, I am poſſeſt with the diuell and cannot ſleepe.
      • 1651, Thomas Hobbes, “Of the Vertues Commonly Called Intellectuall; and Their Contrary Defects”, in Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, London: [] [William Wilson] for Andrew Crooke, [], →OCLC, 1st part (Of Man), page 38:
        [I]t is manifeſt, that whoſoever behaved himſelfe in extraordinory manner, was thought by the Jewes to be poſſeſſed either with a good, or evill ſpirit; []
      • 1727, [Daniel Defoe], “How Wisdom and Learning Advanc’d Men in the First Ages to Royalty and Government, and How Many of the Magicians were Made Kings on that Account; as Zoroaster, Cadmus, and Many Others”, in A System of Magick; or, A History of the Black Art. [], London: [] J. Roberts [], →OCLC, page 55:
        But I am now talking of a Set of People who were not poſſeſs'd BY, but rather, as it may be called, are poſſeſs'd OF the Devil; []
      • 1919, Joseph Conrad, chapter IV, in The Arrow of Gold: A Story between Two Notes, London: T[homas] Fisher Unwin, [], →OCLC, part IV, page 187:
        Had I lived in the Middle Ages I am certain I would have believed that a talking bird must be possessed by the devil.
      • 2018 December 31, Paula Chao, “God of Earth welcomes the Matsu pilgrimage in person?”, in Radio Taiwan International[1], archived from the original on 23 September 2023[2]:
        But when an older man approaches her to pay his respects, something unusual happens. He begins shaking violently, stroking an invisible beard and laughing out loud.
        Security camera footage shows the man running into the temple, leaving behind his shoes. Worshippers say that the man may have been possessed by the God of the Earth, who is often portrayed with a long beard. Some say that the god was using the old man to welcome Matsu.
      • 2023 October 14, HarryBlank, “Face Time”, in SCP Foundation[3], archived from the original on 23 May 2024:
        "He's been waiting to jump my brain-bones since I left R&E. I could feel him hammering on the door." She trotted to the nearest wall and knocked on it for emphasis. "But whatever it is that makes us remember the good old days, it also makes us impossible to possess now. That's why Willie and I both woke up, and why Noè never got taken out by Mukami. So all I had to do was open my mind up to the guy, invite him in, then... gas the foyer, as it were."
    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).
        • c. 1598–1600 (date written), William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene i], page 201, column 2:
          Now tell me how long you would haue her, after you haue poſſeſt her?
        • 1922 February, James Joyce, “[Episode 15: Circe]”, in Ulysses, Paris: Shakespeare and Company, [], →OCLC, part II [Odyssey], page 472:
          She leads him towards the steps, drawing him by the odour of her armpits, the vice of her painted eyes, the rustle of her slip in whose sinuous folds lurks the lion reek of all the male brutes that have possessed her.
    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
        • 1594, William Shakespeare, “The Argument”, in Lucrece (First Quarto), London: [] Richard Field, for Iohn Harrison, [], →OCLC:
          Lvcius Tarquinius (for his exceſſive pride ſurnamed Superbus) after hee had cauſed his owne father in law Seruius Tullius to be cruelly murdred, and contrarie to the Romaine lawes and cuſtomes, not requiring or ſtaying for the peoples ſuffrages, had poſſeſſed himſelfe of the kingdome: []
        • 1595 December 9 (first known performance), [William Shakespeare], The Tragedie of King Richard the Second. [] (First Quarto), London: [] Valentine Simmes for Androw Wise, [], published 1597, →OCLC, [Act II, scene i]:
          And for theſe great affaires do aske ſome charge, / Tovvards our aſsiſtance vve doe ſeaze to vs: / The Plate, coine, reuenevves, and moueables / VVhereof our Vnckle Gaunt did ſtand poſſeſt.
        • c. 1606–1607, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Anthonie and Cleopatra”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act III, scene xi], page 355, column 2:
          I will poſſeſſe you of that ſhip and Treaſure.
        • 1609, William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 29”, in Shake-speares Sonnets. [][4], London: By G[eorge] Eld for T[homas] T[horpe] and are to be sold by William Aspley, →OCLC:
          VVhen in diſgrace with Fortune and mens eyes, / I all alone bevveepe my out-caſt ſtate, / [] / VViſhing me like to one more rich in hope, Featur'd like him, like him with friends poſſeſt, / [] / For thy ſweet loue remembred ſuch vvelth brings, / That then I skorne to change my ſtate with Kings.
        • [1644], [John Milton], Of Education. To Master Samuel Hartlib, [London: [] Thomas Underhill and/or Thomas Johnson], →OCLC, page 2:
          The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our firſt parents by regaining to knovv God aright, and out of that knovvledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as vve may the neereſt by poſſeſſing our ſouls of true vertue, vvhich being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the higheſt perfection.
        • 1791, Homer, W[illiam] Cowper, transl., “[The Iliad.] Book III.”, in The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, Translated into Blank Verse, [], volume I, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, page 70, lines 104–109:
          [H]e, the hoſts between, / With warlike Menelaus ſhall in fight / Contend for Helen, and for all her wealth. / Who ſtrongest proves, and conquers, he, of her / And her's poſſeſt, ſhall bear them ſafe away, / And oaths of amity ſhall bind the reſt.
    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.
        • 1598–1599 (first performance), William Shakespeare, Much Adoe about Nothing. [], quarto edition, London: [] V[alentine] S[immes] for Andrew Wise, and William Aspley, published 1600, →OCLC, [Act V, scene i]:
          I cannot bid you bid my daughter liue, / That were impoſſible, but I pray you both, / Poſſeſs the people in Meſſina here, / How innocent ſhe died, []
        • c. 1601–1602 (date written), William Shakespeare, “Twelfe Night, or What You Will”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act II, scene iii], page 261, column 2:
          To[by Belch]. Poſſeſſe vs, poſſeſſe vs, tell vs ſomething of him. / Mar[ia]. Marrie ſir, ſometimes he is a kinde of Puritane.
        • 1634, T[homas] H[erbert], “Occurrents in Cazbeen”, in A Relation of Some Yeares Trauaile, Begunne Anno 1626. into Afrique and the Greater Asia, [], London: [] William Stansby, and Jacob Bloome, →OCLC, page 123:
          The Pagan in ſhort told him, if hee had any more to poſſeſſe the King he ſhould firſt acquaint him, and conſequently haue an anſwer, to which our Ambaſſadour replyed little, tho diſcontented much, perceiuing by this, he ſhould haue no further acceſſe vnto the King, []
      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], and are to be sold by Peter Parker []; [a]nd by Robert Boulter []; [a]nd Matthias Walker, [], →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.
      • 1611 April (first recorded performance), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Cymbeline”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene v], page 373, column 2:
        Doſt thou thinke in time / She will not quench, and let inſtructions enter / Where Folly now poſſeſſes?

Conjugation

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Derived terms

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Translations

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The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

References

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

Further reading

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