Difference between Possession and Ownership

Most of us often confuse the terms ‘ownership’ and ‘possession’ and use them as synonyms. However, in law, both these terms have distinct legal definitions that are quite distinguished. Let us learn about ownership and possession in jurisprudence and the difference between the two.


Difference between Possession and Ownership

As per Salmond ownership can be described as the relation between a person and any said object which forms the subject matter of this said ownership. Ownership also consists of a complex web of many rights all of which are rights in rem, and not merely rights against persons.

So ownership is actually the sum total of the rights of possession, the right of disposition and even the right of destruction. There are six essential characteristics of ownership as per the law. They are as follows,

  • The owner has the absolute right to possession. It is immaterial if the owner in actual possession of the object, as long as he has the right of possession.
  • The owner has the liberty or the right to use and enjoy the benefits of the said object. No one can interfere with his right to use the object he owns.
  • Ownership also means that the owner has the right to exhaust the object while using it.
  • And he also has the right to destroy or alienate the object. This means he can destroy or dispose of the object during his lifetime or via his will. This right is sometimes restricted by law.
  • Ownership is also for an indeterminate duration. Possession or the right to use is for a limited period, but the ownership of an object is for an indeterminate period of time.
  • And finally, ownership is residuary in character. So for example, if the owner leases the object, or gives it for use, etc. he still remains the owner.


Salmond defines possession (in legal terms) as the continuous exercising of a claim, to the exclusive use of an object or a thing constitutes possession of the object. In simpler words, if a person has apparent control of an object and apparent power to exclude others from the use of the object, then we can say he has possession.

Now it is a de facto relation between a man and an object. So a man can possess a thing he doesn’t own. Say for example the possession of a property that he has leased from someone (who will be the owner). And the opposite is also true. One can own some object and not possess it.

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Ownership vs Possession

Ownership Possession
Ownership involves the absolute rights and legitimate claim to an object. It means to own the object by the owner. Possession is more the physical control of an object. The possessor has a better claim to the title of the object than anyone, except the owner himself.
Ownership is the right of the owner against the world indefinite in point of the user, unrestricted in point of disposition or destroying and unlimited in point of duration over a thing As per the definitions, it is the continuous exercise of a claim to exclusively possess and use the object/thing.
 Ownership itself gives the owner the right to possession.  However, it does not indicate the right to ownership.
 The transfer of ownership is a technical and long process and involves conveyance  Transfer of possession is fairly easier and less technical.
 Ownership is essentially a bundle of rights, all rights in rem.  It is not a right, just a prima facie evidence of ownership

 Question on Ownership and Possession

Q: Possession can be classified as private. True or False?

Ans: This is False. Only ownership can be classified as private or common or collective. Possession is described as actual, constructive, etc.

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2 responses to “Purpose of Law – Concept of Justice”

  1. thank you for this website

  2. Wilson Siki says:

    This really helps me in my research home.

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