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My English teacher said that it's not correct to say 'my company' for indicating the company I work for, because 'my company' means the company I own. But I don't think this kind of confusion happens often. It's too long to say 'the company I work for'.

So can't I use 'my company'? If so, what about 'my apartment' or 'my band' or 'my country'?

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, tchrist, RegDwigнt Jul 24 at 12:45

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23  
I'm sure my fellow Anglophones will agree that your teacher is being silly. And no - I don't "own" any Anglophones. –  FumbleFingers Jul 23 at 15:35
13  
To remove ambiguity and to shorten up the phrase, you can say "my employer". –  Kristina Lopez Jul 23 at 15:40
11  
Your teacher is completely wrong. –  Joe Blow Jul 23 at 15:41
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@Joe Blow No; his teacher is largely wrong. 'My company' should not be used where a misunderstanding might reasonably occur. –  Edwin Ashworth Jul 23 at 16:18
24  
Does your teacher also think you own him? –  Kevin Workman Jul 23 at 17:09

6 Answers 6

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Your teacher is correct that there is ambiguity there, you could be referring to either the company that you own or the company that you work for.

However, you are correct that this ambiguity hardly ever arises in practice, for two reasons: first, there is only a small percentage of people who own a company, so you're not too likely to be in a situation where the "ownership" meaning is intended (or if you are, it will be apparent from context anyway); and second, the people who do own a company almost always also work at that company, so the distinction is quite probably irrelevant in most of those few cases where the potential ambiguity actually arises.

Also, as pointed out recently in an answer to a completely unrelated question on ELL, the use of genitive is not necessarily related to possession at all; so your teacher is not correct in asserting that my company would by default refer to "the company I own".

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3  
The characterisation "very small" is slightly misleading. The vast majority of companies consist of one person or a family; something like 98% of them. The company owning population is (informed guesswork) probably around 10% in the UK, France and Ireland and higher in the US. As you say, though, the owner is usually also an employee. –  Ben Jul 23 at 20:07
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@Ben, a fair criticism; I admit to having been ignorant of the percentages. I have updated to remove the "very" of the smallness. –  Hellion Jul 23 at 21:43
    
I think this would be a better answer to open with "your teacher is completely wrong" and discuss where s/he happens to be coming from and in a corner case correct. –  user36720 Jul 23 at 23:21
    
@Ben, in that case it doesn't make much difference what is meant. If my company were indeed my company, I would be a billionaire. But for a single person company owner, although there may be a misunderstanding what the statement means, it doesn't make a difference in practice. –  gnasher729 Jul 24 at 0:08
    
I'm sorry but I don't quite understand @gnasher. If you're writing about "small" vs. "very small" it does make a difference as the initial assumption of most was that the teacher is completely "wrong" when they're actually only mostly "wrong". –  Ben Jul 24 at 6:02

In a given context, it might be confusing or misleading to say "my company" to refer to the company that you work for. But it is mot definitely NOT wrong.

Possessives like "my" do not necessarily mean ownership. They simply indicate some sort of relationship. We use possessives in many different senses:

  • my pencil: I own this pencil.
  • my house: If I have a mortgage, do I really "own" the house? If I fail to pay on the mortgage, the bank can take it away.
  • my dog: You might say that I own the dog, but I almost certainly do not view my relationship to my dog the same way that I view my relationship to my pencil.
  • my wife / my husband: There is a certain sense of ownership, but most people do not see their husband or wife as a piece of property that they own. Unless you have a very bad marriage. Or maybe a very good one. :-)
  • my friend: I certainly do not own this other person. I am just indicating that this person and I have a relationship, as distinct from being strangers, or him being your friend. As in, "Who invited Joe to the party? Is he your friend?"
  • my country: I do not suppose that I own the country. I mean the country of which I am a citizen. I suppose a dictator might say "my country" in the sense of owning it.
  • my master: A slave does not own his master. The master owns him.

Sure, a possessive could be ambiguous. If I say "my company", do I mean the company that I own? The company that I work for? In context, it could mean other things. Like, "I have a retirement fund with Fidelity. How about you?" "Oh, my company is Mercer." I don't either own or work for Mercer, I just have an account with them. Or a group of terrorists might have a conversation like, "I'm going to be part of the group blowing up the oil refinery today. Would you like to join us?" "Oh, sorry, my company today is XYZ Airlines." Etc. "My company" could mean all sorts of things depending on context. If it's not clear which you mean from the context, then you should add words to make it clear.

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3  
Even “my pencil” doesn't necessarily imply ownership. It can mean “the pencil that has been temporarily assigned for my use”. –  Gilles Jul 23 at 21:52
    
While you probably would still be understood (yay context), a better wording would be "My fund is Mercer's" or "My fund is with Mercer". But that's probably being too pedantic. –  Lie Ryan Jul 23 at 23:46
    
@Gilles Quite true. Like if you work in an office, you likely say "my desk" and "my chair", but you don't own these things. The company owns them. –  Jay Jul 24 at 13:30
    
@LieRyan Sure, I'd be more likely to say, "My retirement account is at Mercer" or some such. But my point is that the sentence as I gave it is valid and meaningful. Someone MIGHT say it the way I gave in my example if the conversation went a certain way, i.e. if the participants started talking in terms of "which company" rather than "which fund". –  Jay Jul 24 at 13:35

The ambiguity here is created from the lack of a shared knowledge base or context. To say "my company" in a business context, for example among co-workers, it would be understood that you mean the "company I work for" and not "the company I own". With a broader audience, i.e. one that doesn't share your coorporate knowledge base, this is a problematic expression, and not silly. Your instructor wants you to write clearly and that means readers must be able to resolve the ambiguites in some way.

Another way to say "my company" without being to verbose, might be to use a phrase like "my current employer" which allows you to personalize it as with "my company" but remove the ambiguity of possible ownership.

The main lessons here are that 1) english gives us plenty of options to express our ideas and 2) you need to always consider your audience when you select the words to express them. Also, kudos to you for attempting to be more concise in your writing. However, the challenge in using fewer words to is the extra work required to do so and not sacrifice meaning in your expession.

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Tell your teacher that he/she couldn't be more wrong. Even if he/she were correct, the suggested alternative is ending in a preposition...

The company I work for. The company for which I work.

Bravo, boys and girls. The internet has taken the few remaining perks out of teaching; mainly, assumed infallibility.

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Ending sentences with prepositions is not grammatically incorrect in English. It's only incorrect to those snobs who confused English grammars with Latin grammars. –  Lie Ryan Jul 23 at 23:52
    
Welcome to EL&U, but please visit the site tour and review the help center for guidance on writing good answers; this is not a traditional discussion forum. –  choster Jul 23 at 23:58

The reader could definitely confuse whether or not 'your' company is possessive or not. I, personally, do see it as a possessive trait since it feels more standard that someone who owns a company would use that terminology rather than coming up with a non-ambiguous alternative. It would be strange for them to say something lengthy as well: "The company that I own ..."

There are other examples of how to say "The company that I work for." You could definitely use a short one like "My workplace." These ambiguous statements are definitely based on the context of the individual and what type of reading it is, but this is exactly why these scenarios are situational.

Sidenote: Questions are a great example of how something simple can be confused. "You didn't go to the doctor today?" Most commonly those are Yes or No statements, but simply saying "Correct." clears up all the confusion.

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If "the reader" is confused about whether "your" indicates ownership in this specific context, they're probably not paying much attention to context. The speaker appears to be a pupil in a school class - probably not someone you'd naturally expect to own a company. In any real context ambiguity is unlikely (but any real speaker would be aware of the situation, and might on occasion deliberately exploit that ambiguity). –  FumbleFingers Jul 23 at 17:06

Sentence: "I can't help you, my company installs and repairs garage doors, but they don't install or repair house doors". When I hear this, I get multiple items of information. The big one is what kind of business the company does and doesn't conduct. The minor item, which could be misunderstood, is that either the company employs me, or I own the company.

The only case where it would make a difference is if the person who asked me about a repair of her front door is a single lady keen to find a rich husband, and would be interested in me if I was the company owner, but not if I'm just a repair man. 99% of the time, the information that could be misunderstood is irrelevant.

And in cases where I mean ownership, it also can rarely be misunderstood. For example: "How much did you earn this year? " "I made $50,000 as an employee, but my company also made $50,000, so the total is $100,000". I own the company, no misunderstanding possible.

So the answer: One, "my" doesn't automatically imply ownership and therefore may be used when I'm not the owner. Two, "my company" could be misunderstood, but that would be very rare in practice. Three, "my company" could be used intentionally to create doubt and confusion whether I'm the owner or an employee. In this case, if my intent is to create confusion, and the words that I chose do that, then surely the words are correct.

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