verb pos·sess \ pə-ˈzes also -ˈses \
Updated on: 18 Feb 2018

Definition of possess

transitive verb
1 a : to have and hold as property : own
b : to have as an attribute, knowledge, or skill
2 a : to seize and take control of : take into one's possession
b : to enter into and control firmly : dominate
  • was possessed by demons
c : to bring or cause to fall under the influence, domination, or control of some emotional or intellectual response or reaction
  • melancholy possesses her
3 a obsolete : to instate as owner
b : to make the owner or holder used in passive construction to indicate simple possession
  • possessed of riches
  • possessed of knowledge and experience


play \pə-ˈze-sər also -ˈse-\ noun

Examples of possess in a Sentence

  1. What would possess seemingly sane people to treat concrete walls like trampolines? —Alice ParkTime16 Apr. 2007
  2. People who experience specific colors when looking at particular letters, such as seeing sky blue when shown an R, possess an unusual abundance of connections in brain areas involved in word and color perception, a new brain-imaging investigation finds. —Bruce BowerScience News26 May 2007
  3. What does matter is that we come to recognize that playfulness, as a philosophical stance, can be very serious, indeed; and, moreover, that it possesses an unfailing capacity to arouse ridicule and hostility in those among us who crave certainty, reverence, and restraint. —Tom RobbinsHarper'sSeptember 2004
  4. nations that possess nuclear weapons

  5. The defendant was charged with possessing cocaine.

  6. The ruby was once possessed by an ancient queen.

  7. He dreams of someday possessing great wealth.

  8. He possesses a keen wit.

  9. The drug possesses the potential to suppress tumors.

  10. Do dolphins possess the ability to use language?

Recent Examples of possess from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'possess.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of possess

Middle English, from Middle French possesser to have possession of, take possession of, from Latin possessus, past participle of possidēre, from potis able, having the power + sedēre to sit — more at potent, sit

possess Synonyms


command, enjoy, have, hold, own, retain;


lack, want;

Related Words

keep, reserve, withhold;

bear, carry;

boast, show off, sport;


rejoice in;

POSSESS Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of possess for English Language Learners

  • : to have or own (something)

  • : to have or show (a particular quality, ability, skill, etc.)

  • of spirits : to enter into and control (someone)

POSSESS Defined for Kids


verb pos·sess \ pə-ˈzes \

Definition of possess for Students

possessed; possessing
1 : to have and hold as property : own
  • I possess little money.
2 : to have as a characteristic or quality
  • The black wolf also possessed wisdom, she had observed.
  • —Jean Craighead George, Julie of the Wolves
3 : to enter into and control
  • possessed by a demon
  • What possessed you to say that?


\-ər\ noun

Law Dictionary


transitive verb pos·sess \ pə-ˈzes \

legal Definition of possess

: to have possession of

Seen and Heard

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to fix or define the limits of

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