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He's a friend of mine.
That's a car of his.

Why do we use the possessive when the meaning would be the same while not using it (e.g. a friend of me and a car of him)? I thought maybe it is short for That's a car of his [cars], but I have no way of making sure; it sounds a little odd that way to me.

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He's a friend of mine, but he's not the boss of me. – FumbleFingers Oct 17 '11 at 0:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

They're examples of the double genitive/possessive, which is perfectly valid and has been around in English for centuries. The of already denotes "possession", but we do this again when we use mine/his instead of me/him.

The fact that we don't say John is a friend of me/him is really just idiomatic for those particular forms. But that "idiomatic principle" isn't universally observed - people often say, for example, He's a friend of John. Though they also say a friend of John's - both forms are valid there.

Here's an NGram showing how friend of her has gradually given way to friend of hers over the past couple of centuries, as the "reach" of the idiomatic mine/his has been extended.

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The tail end of that Ngram tells me she has fewer and fewer friends as time goes on. – onomatomaniak Oct 17 '11 at 6:58
@onomatomaniak: She might have got more for all I know. People might become her friends rather than friends of her[s]. – FumbleFingers Oct 17 '11 at 13:50
Good, except "of" does not always indicate possession. It may also be used to indicate an attribute associated with but not possessed by a person or thing. For example, "kind words of yours" (whose?) versus "kind of you". (of whom?). Consider here German dative versus genitive cases. – Jack Robbin Feb 12 '12 at 3:50
@Jack Robbin: That's what I meant by putting "possession" in quotes. – FumbleFingers Feb 12 '12 at 5:06
There is a slight difference on occasion. He's a friend of John's connotes 'one of (the set of) John's friends' whereas Fredonia is an enemy of Ruritania doesn't necessarily mean that there are other enemies. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 3 '13 at 22:14

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