What Does Possession In General Imply?


The term possession implies the state of having or taking into control over a thing. According to Maine define possession as “physical detention coupled to hold the thing detained as one’s own”. Salmond says, “the continuing exercise of a claim to the exclusive use of a thing constitutes the possession of it”. Pollock has given the new meaning of the term possession, “in a common speech a man is said to possess or own anything which has the apparent control, or from the use of which he has the apparent power of excluding others”. The Supreme Court has proposed in the case of Superintendent v. Remembrance R that, “possession is a polymorphous term which may have a different meaning in different contexts. It is impossible to work out a completely logical definition of uniformly applicable to all situations in the context of all statutes”.

Types of possession

1. Corporeal possession

Corporeal possession is the possession of a material or tangible objects which our senses can perceive. It includes both movable like cattle, watch and books as well as immovable like land, house, etc. Corporeal possession consists of various collections of elements but actual use of the things is not necessary, for example, a person can keep his ring locked in a place and never use it but still, he will be said to own the ring.1

2. Incorporeal possession

Incorporeal possession is the possession of an immaterial or intangible object. For example, Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Goodwill, Reputation, etc. In incorporeal possession, the physical control of the actual thing is not visible therefore continuous use of the object is necessary. It is the possession of the right, i.e. the things that do not have a physical existence but there is the continuous use of it.2

3. Mediate possession

Mediate possession is the possession of a thing through another, either through a friend or servant for an agent. For example, if a person has a car, which he leaves with his driver. The possession of the driver will be immediate whereas the possession of the person will be mediated. Salmond has given three classifications of mediate possession:

  • Possession obtained through an agent

  • Possession held through borrower or hirer to the tenant, the object can be asked at will.

  • Possession is held through a person who is bound to return the object after a certain period.3

4. Immediate possession

Immediate possession is also known as direct possession. In this possession, the involvement of friends and agents is not necessary. The person can directly take possession of the object without a third party. The possessor has all the control over such a thing. For example, if a person has a car and keeps it in his garage, this comprises immediate possession.4

5. Constructive possession

Constructive possession is a possession of fact and not the possession of law. It is legal illusion to describe this as a person who has actual control over the property without having the physical control of the same. It is the same as actual possession. It is used when someone is imposed with illegal possession of something. For example, if a man keeps the key of his locker in his pocket and in that locker there is stolen money, then the man will be considered as having the actual possession of that money, therefore, the law sees this as constructive possession of stolen money. Most of these cases belong to drug-related issues.

6. Adverse possession

Adverse possession is having physical control over the object possessed with an intention to exercise that power. Here the intention of the person should be to keep it absolutely to oneself. For example, if a person lives in a rented place peacefully for those years, he can claim ownership and the true owner’s right gets terminated.

7. De facto possession

The Latin meaning of the word ‘De facto’ means ‘in reality’. De facto possession means the possession which exists in reality even if it is not legally recognized. The person has the physical control of the thing to the omission of others and has Animus and Corpus over the object.

8. De jure possession

De jure possession is translated as possession in the ‘eyes of the law’. This possession implies that the possession of an object whether it is land or real estate property, the person need not have the ownership of the same except verified under the eye of the law.

Obtaining of possession

1. Possession acquired by consent

It means possession is obtained with the consent of the previous person. It may be purchased, received as a gift, or borrowed. There are two types of possession i.e. actual and constructive. The actual possession is when a person lends its watch to another person whereas, in constructive possession, a person sells the watch to another person.9

2. Possession acquired without consent

It means possession is obtained without the consent of its rightful owner. The possession can be right or wrong. For example, res nullis which means nobody’s thing like wild cats or birds, etc. Even you might take possession of someone’s lost object. We can understand this from an example if someone goes to your house as a guest and leave without paying the bill for the food, and then there is the rightful possession obtained. But if someone trespasses your house and take things with an intention of theft, then that will be a wrongful possession.10

3. Operation of law

Possession can be obtained by the operation of law like in the case of succession. For example, if the actual owner of the land dies, then the government can give the possession to another person i.e. his successor or legal representative.


A perusal and study of the term possession reveals that contours of possession are very dynamic and inclusive in nature. It is also protected by various remedies of law like the doctrine of jus tertii and statutory remedies are also available like in the Specific Relief Act, 1963, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, as well as the Indian Contract Act, 1872. Also, possession is the most significant thing between a man and the matter.


1 http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1543-the-concept-of-possession-its-meaning-elements-kinds-and-modes-of-acquisition.html last visited on 29th May, 2020.

2 Supra note 1.

3 Supra note 1.

4 https://www.srdlawnotes.com/2017/02/kinds-of-possession.html last visited 29th May, 2020.

9 https://www.srdlawnotes.com/2017/02/possession.html last visited on 29th May, 2020.

10 Supra note 7.

This article is authored by Aarti Tiwari, Third-Year, B.A. LL.B, student at Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies, Bangalore.

Also Read – Supreme Court On ‘Adverse Possession

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