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1) Admit we were possessive, and that our language has become unmanageable
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2010/11/01
5:18am
Glenn
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Which do you say and / or write?

I am a friend of Bill.
I am a friend of Bill's.

I am a friend of the family.
I am a friend of the family's.

The title of the book is Quo Vadis.
The title of the book's is Quo Vadis.

I know that certain traditions say that with some uses of the possessive one must observe a distinction between animate and inanimate. This is supported by the following:

a feature of mine (not *a feature of me)**
a feature of yours (not *a feature of you)**
a feature of his (not *a feature of him)**
a feature of hers (not *a feature of her)**
a feature of ours (not *a feature of us)**
a feature of theirs (not *a feature of them)**
But neither:
*a feature of its nor *a feature of it**

** (Note. One could construct a situation in which these might be used, perhaps in a discussion of psychology or lingusitics. However, there would be, in my mind, a need to place quotes around or italicize the pronoun to mark the unusual, context-specific use.
e.g. The spelling of "its" omits an apostrophe in the possessive, as do other personal pronouns.)

There are also clearly some limitations to one's ability to use this x of y construction, even with animates. You can say: “You're not the boss of me!” And you can't say: *“You're not the boss of mine!” But it's not simply the definite article, because you can say: “The friend of mine who will help you most is Chris.”

Has anyone else sorted this all out?

2010/11/01
6:35am
torpeau
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Glenn said:

Which do you say and / or write?

I am a friend of Bill.

I am a friend of Bill's.

I am a friend of the family.
I am a friend of the family's.

Has anyone else sorted this all out?


Actually, I have been thinking about this exact situation. When you say "friend of Bill," it makes the same possessive connection as saying "Bill's friend," so "friend of Bill's" is kind of redundant in my mind. But I would still likely say "friend of Bill's." The reason is "friend of his" is more appropriate than "friend of him." Sure am glad I leaned English as a child and not as an adult trying to learn a new language.

2010/11/02
8:30am
telemath
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I would say "friend of Bill's" or "friend of mine," even though it doesn't hold up under a searching and fearless oral inventory. There are also some good counterexamples, like "Friends of Scouting" and "Friends of the Library". Maybe best to just accept the things you cannot change.

2010/11/02
12:18pm
Glenn
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telemath said:

I would say "friend of Bill's" or "friend of mine," even though it doesn't hold up under a searching and fearless oral inventory. There are also some good counterexamples, like "Friends of Scouting" and "Friends of the Library". Maybe best to just accept the things you cannot change.


One reasonably convincing article I read said that, in this x of y construction, you use the possessive form for people, but don't use it for things. Based on our own small sampling, my guess is that organizations and collectives count mostly as things. If that is correct as a general rule, it doesn't explain the " … boss of me" case, but it does a pretty good job of handling the rest. That rule of thumb would yield:

I am a friend of Bill's.
I am a friend of the family.
The title of the book is Quo Vadis.
Friends of Scouting
Friends of the Library
Vote of the congregation
Decision of Terry's
Verdict of the jury
Leg of the table
Hair of the dog

It is very odd that these sound instinctively correct, even though I was never consciously aware of the rule. Does this hold up reasonable well for everyone?

[edit: added the following] I am beginning to waffle.

Did you know that John is the grandson of Mary Smith? (not Mary Smith's)
Did you know that John is a grandson of Mary Smith? (not Mary Smith's)
Did you know that grandson of Mary Smith's is a US Senator. (not Mary Smith)
That plastic rabbit is a favorite toy of Fido's. (not of Fido)

I'm so confused.

2010/11/03
3:14pm
Bob Bridges
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This one is much easier than most people make it out to be. Some folks figure that since "of" indicates possessive, "a friend of Bill's" means "a friend of Bill's friend(s)". But "of" doesn't mean possessive in this phrase, it means "from" or "among", as in "one of Bill's friends"; "a friend of Bill's" means not "a friend belonging to Bill's friend(s)" but "a friend from among Bill's friends". Likewise "a friend of the family's", "a friend of the Smith's" (not the same thing as "a friend of the Smiths") and so on.

"The title of the book's", though, that's just wrong.

2014/01/03
12:04am
Robert
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Unmanageable sounds right. But astronomers used to round up celestial objects like cattle using the spherical orbs- if a star or planet seems wayward with its travels, orbs are deployed or tweaked to snare its path just so the cosmos again looks in control of all its children.

Likewise, to account for the unruly grammars,  I might take liberty with this grammatical orb, namely that the choice between 'among' and 'owned by' may be up to discretion, namely: Use possessive pronoun (of=among) if you want to highlight interest or knowledge of the entity; otherwise use plain objective pronoun (of=owned by).

Accordingly:

(1) Did you know that John is the grandson of Mary Smith? (not Mary Smith's)
(2) Did you know that John is a grandson of Mary Smith? (not Mary Smith's)
(3) Did you know that grandson of Mary Smith's is a US Senator. (not Mary Smith)
(4) That plastic rabbit is a favorite toy of Fido's. (not of Fido)     

(1) 'The' requires the objective pronoun.

(2) You are not interested in other grandsons.

(3)  You want to indicate that she has many grandsons.

(4)  You want to highlight how this toy is that special because Fiddo has many others.

 

Another grammatical orb still: you might purposely deviate from familiar patterns for colorful effects:

Verdict of the jury's  == This jury is so befuddled they keep changing votes.

Friend of Dexter == Dexter never has any friends except the single one.

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