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The usage in the question title seems common enough to me, though it may be more common in Britain.

But I can't exactly see what "part of speech" the word friends is here, and I can't come up with any related forms. You'd never hear, for example, John is enemies with Jack. What is going on?

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I am really bothered by the usage J "is friends" with...A and B may be friends, A and B may be friendly. But friends with is very awkward, in my opinion. But is it incorrect grammatically? – pwrnyc Apr 13 at 22:13
    
Whether it's technically "correct" or not is irrelevant. It is incredibly idiomatic, and even the most retentive P-ists would laugh at any attempt to excise it from the lexicon. – Hot Licks Apr 13 at 22:33
up vote 6 down vote accepted

We don’t have ‘make enemies with’, but we do have ‘make enemies of’, just as we have ‘make friends of’, so in ‘friends with’, ‘friends’ would appear to be a noun. (The OED has ‘friends with’ under its definitions of ‘friend’ as a noun.) ‘Friends’, because friendship requires two participants as a minumum. It’s not just friends, of course. We can be ‘pals with’, ‘buddies with’, ‘mates with’, ‘chums with’, ‘partners with’ . . .

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"am mates with" flatlines in NGrams, and Google behaves very oddly if I search the net for that in quotes. It starts off by saying there are about 394,000 hits, but if I scroll through them it ends up admitting there are only actually 263 in total. I must say "am partners with" sounds really weird to me; I suspect the others only seem reasonable because they put me in mind of the familiar friends version anyway. – FumbleFingers Sep 24 '11 at 15:13
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...by which I mean: pals, mates, buddies, chums are all quite "slangy" terms very closely associated with friends, so possibly they're only able to be used in this construction because friends has already "blazed the trail", so to speak. – FumbleFingers Sep 24 '11 at 15:28
    
Yes, that’s probably right. I was thinking of ‘partners with’ in the business sense: 'We’ve formed this consortium, so we’ll be partners with our former competitors on this new project.’ Other possibles are ‘collaborators with’, ‘allies with’, ‘bedfellows with’. ‘Mates with’ may not have shown inGrams because it is predominantly colloquial. – Barrie England Sep 24 '11 at 16:27
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'Aren't you mates with Ed any more?' is a possible, if not highly likely, sentence in BrEng. – Barrie England Sep 24 '11 at 17:15
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@BarrieEngland I’m not positive, but ‘am collaborators with’ and ‘am allies with’ both strike me as off. I don’t think I would ever generate them, preferring ‘am a collaborator of’ or ‘am an ally of’. But I have no problem with ‘am friends with’. Weird. – tchrist Jan 15 '12 at 15:54

Good question. What kind of word class is "friends" in to be/to make/to become friends/good friends with someone"?

The German translation of John is friends with Jane would be John ist mit Jane befreudet. That would be "befriended with" (That word exists in English). English doesn't use "befriended" but it can express the same idea with friends.

One could try to label this "friends" in the mentioned idioms as special adjective limited in use to those idioms. But that jams when "to be good friends with sb" is used. So we have to see "friends" as noun in plural form with special limited use.

I would guess the basis of the idioms is "John and Jane are friends/good friends" and this expression was artfully twisted and transformed into "John is friends with Jane", maybe to replace a "befriended with", which came out of use.

Idioms don 't care whether they are grammatical or not, they have their own rules.

Etymonline doesn't mention the problem in its entry friend. Perhaps someone can have a look at OED, I have no access.

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