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I always found it weird to hear people say things like "My friend asked me to come" (with no prior mention of said friend), as opposed to "A friend of mine asked me to come". To me it seems as though the former would imply that the speaker has just one friend. I think this usage is well widespread though, but is there any concern about its correctness?

I don't see a similar pattern in use for words other than "friend" (perhaps for family members such as "brother" as well?). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think "You can read about that in my book" would be an unusual thing to say if I'm the author of several books on the same subject matter, unless the particular book I'm referring to is clear in context.

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I think it is appropriate to use that phrase when there is no need to mention other friends or siblings. If the listener desires more information, he can surely ask for clarification, but I don't think anyone would assume they only had one friend. Someone may want to only give minimum of information about friends and family members unless the listener knew the person better. My coworker, my pastor could be other examples of that pattern, and there are probably more. –  Spare Oom Jul 13 '11 at 23:51
    
It's possible that this usage is regional. I don't think I heard "my friend" used this way much in California, but I hear it all the time in the Northeast. –  Peter Shor Feb 12 '12 at 14:18
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2 Answers

If you want to convey that you have one friend in total, you use the phrase "my only friend". Just saying "my friend" is (possibly intentionally) ambiguous.

In short:

  • "A friend of mine": total number of friends is greater than one.
  • "My only friend": total number of friends is equal to one.
  • "My friend": total number of friends is unknown.

At least, that's how I interpret it. I prefer interpretations that infer the least.

P.S. Thinking about it, "a friend of mine" could imply the total number of friends is at least one. To imply the total number of friends is greater than one, the phrase "one of my friends" (note the plural antecedent) might be better.

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I think that "a friend of mine" can't imply that the total number of friends is at least one. Because in that case there would be the article "the" used. Don't you think so? As "a" means one of at least two. –  user1425 Sep 23 '13 at 16:38
    
"A" implies existence, but not a determinate number. The speaker might not wish to reveal the total number of friends. Also, I have never heard the phrasing "the friend of mine" in use, and if I did, it would sound pathetic. –  Mike DeSimone Sep 24 '13 at 0:01
    
do you mean that "a week" doesn't mean 1 week? "the friend of mine" is not what I suggest to say, it should be "my friend" instead. My point is that "a" means "one of at least two". –  user1425 Sep 24 '13 at 8:10
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Actually, usage does fit that pattern for many other words:

My teacher told me to study for the upcoming test.

My book sold 1 million copies!

My brother just scored a perfect game in bowling.

Depending on how loose you are willing to take the phrase:

I offered my hand to the stranger.

We can take my car.

It is my hope that we exceed our profits from last year.

Essentially, my means a with a personal implication:

A friend asked me to come

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