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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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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
    
mates with takes on the meaning copulates with so its unlikely to be used in the plural with the first person, except of course, in slang/informal usage –  Autoresponder Sep 24 '11 at 17:01
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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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