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Prompted by comments against this question, I'd like some help figuring out why some people (myself included) prefer yours over the apparently more logical/grammatically consistent your in this kind of sentence...

Yours and my native languages have co-existed for hundreds of years.

Google Books has Your:Yours ratios for languages:2:2, parents:9:10, houses:4:2. That's a very small sample size, admittedly - but even without anything like that, I know my own usage. So I'm not really interested in being told which is correct, except insofar as this has a bearing on my question itself - why do some people, (including some "careful speakers", which I don't necessarily claim to be) use the apparently incorrect form?

EDIT: It may be important to note (as @Gnawme guessed without it being explicitly stated in the first version of this question) that I personally would use singular language in the above. It was just too difficult to search Google Books for that particular distinction, so I said nothing about it.

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Ngrams shows that yours and my is definitely more common in the U.K. than in the U.S. There are a number of false positives, but that probably means the difference in usage is even greater. –  Peter Shor Jan 23 '12 at 17:49
    
Ngrams cannot be trusted in this case, see the last paragraph in my answer for explanation. –  RiMMER Jan 23 '12 at 17:53
    
@RIMMER: If you look at the actual hits for yours and my in Google books, a substantial fraction of them are real occurrences of the phrase. If you assume that the false positives occur equally often in the U.S. and the U.K. (which I think is a reasonable assumption), then the usage of yours and my is much higher in the U.K. I think it quite likely that this construction is grammatically acceptable in the U.K. but not the U.S. –  Peter Shor Jan 23 '12 at 18:05
    
"Yours and my [object]" sounds painfully, gratingly wrong to my ears, and I'm totally perplexed about how you -- a native speaker with some language expertise -- could possibly prefer it. –  Marthaª Jan 23 '12 at 18:26
    
@Peter Shor: I think you're almost certainly correct that US usage avoids Yours and my in this construction. As Rimmer says, standard Google, and NGram, may mislead on this one, but Google Books itself is much safer (though you get less hits). But I get fairly even usage figures for "Your/s his and my", "His your/s and my" (again, only dozens), so even if Americans reject yours out of hand, they must tend to simply avoid the entire construction, otherwise US instances of your would swamp British usage on those "small-scale" searches. –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 19:01

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The OED’s definition 3 of yours is ‘Used instead of your before another possessive, etc. qualifying the same noun. Now rare or obsolete.’ An illustrative citation is Joseph Addison’s from 1710, ‘I suppose you know, that I obeyed your's, and the Bishop of Clogher's commands.’ (Note the apostrophe, incidentally.)

As you have said, the written record tells us nothing about what occurs in speech. 'Yours and my . . .’ may occur as frequently as you suggest, but I think we're at least as likely to hear ‘my . . . and yours’ or ‘your . . . and mine’ or ‘our . . .' Or 'your and my . . .' or 'my or your . . .'

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That OED definition seems exceptionally apposite! Searching GBooks for your's and his I find quite a few such usages - most are pre-1900, and they certainly don't seem to be by illiterate writers. It's easy to imagine the apostrophe being lost somewhere along the way, but leaving behind a sense that somehow this usage is okay despite problems with superficial grammar. This is currently my front-runner answer, for sure! –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 19:36

If you reverse the persons mentioned in your sentence, then you get:

My native language and yours have co-existed for hundreds of years.

This is a perfectly grammatical sentence. Good manners dictate that we mention ourselves last, hence the more polite form you suggest Yours/Your and my native languages have co-existed for hundreds of years, which could of course be Your native language and mine have co-existed for hundreds of years. The latter raises no problems, either.

If I ever used the construct you prefer, I'd do it unconsciously, and seeing it written, especially by me, would make me want to correct it immediately to the more grammatical Your and my native languages... I suspect the reason I might use it would be because there is no noun following your, which doesn't sound natural, especially when we speak.

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It comes back to our old friends, the possessive pronouns (my, our, your, his, her, its, and their), which qualify nouns (my native language), and their independent (aka absolute) forms (mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, and theirs), which subsume the nouns (mine).

If we progressively subsume the noun language:

  1. Your native language and my native language have co-existed for hundreds of years.
  2. Your native language and mine have co-existed for hundreds of years.
  3. Yours and my native language have co-existed for hundreds of years.
  4. Yours and mine have co-existed for hundreds of years.

While case 3 sounds a bit odd, it's grammatically correct. The independent possessive yours subsumes native language, while the possessive pronoun my continues to qualify native language. It's incorrect to combine the nouns into native languages, first because the independent possessive yours is able to stand alone as a noun, and second because native language is qualified by my.

So you prefer yours and my native language because it's correct.

I suspect you would see or hear your and my used only colloquially. If you search for your and my in COCA, nearly all instances are colloquial -- transcribed from spoken word, or appearing in fictional dialog. (Of the two cases that are not marked as "Fiction' or "Spoken," one is from a letter to the editor, and the other appears to be a case of sloppy editing.)

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I never actually mentioned it in my question, but you're quite right that I personally would definitely use singular language here. The original had plural - I left it like that in my quote partly because I just did a "cut & paste", but mainly because I didn't want to complicate my question with what I thought (-lessly assumed?) was an unrelated issue here. It now seems likely these are two aspects of a single (singular?) issue. –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 21:18
    
I don't see why “your and my native languages” should be wrong. Both 'your' and 'my' are possessive determiners, and nouns can be modified by several determiners separated by various conjunctions: “the red pen and the blue pen”, if combined, become “the red and blue pens”. I would rather say that your no. 3 is incorrect, since subsuming requires familiar material; i.e., only the second language, not the first, can be subsumed. Cf. “the red one and the blue pen”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '13 at 22:56

The way I see it is that by combining:

your native language + my native language

you should get:

Your and my native language.

And by combining, for example:

Is this chair yours? + Is this chair mine?

you should get:

Is this chair yours and/or mine?

I think the reason why some people say yours and my is because your isn't followed by any noun, while my is. Similar to cases when the noun precedes and not follows, like "this item is mine" or "the decision is yours", the same has been done in your example, but I don't really think it's correct, as the noun is really there, just "a few more words apart."

This rule also resolves the problem with parsing/syntax. Imagine the following:

The decision is yours and my opinion is that you should think before you decide.

Now, the above can be parsed in two ways:

A: (The decision is yours) (and my opinion is) that you should think before you decide.

versus

B: (The decision is) (yours and my opinion) is that you should think before you decide.

While A is obviously correct and B incorrect, B can only exist if the alternative was correct.

If I'm right, and I'll let people to vote/comment on that, the reason why people use one form or the other is already answered in the above. They just don't know the rule and use it improperly, similarly to "you and I" versus "you and me", etc.

Also, you should be aware that trusting google/ngram on these results isn't a very good idea, because if you search for yours and my, many results are returned where the above is a part of two sentences, like:

My heart is yours and my love is too.

Which has absolutely nothing to do with what you're asking.

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I don't understand why you wrote the first dozen lines. I said in my question that "Your" seems to be correct, and you appear to be saying the same thing. Re the last lines, note that the Google Books results involve only a couple of dozen hits altogether, which obviously I can easily read to guard against irrelevant "accidental co-occurences". As for the "bit in the middle", I have no inclination to say "Yours and mine languages", so I don't see where that gets us either. –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 18:06
    
@FumbleFingers: fixed it up a bit. –  RiMMER Jan 23 '12 at 18:20
    
haha - well getting rid of the first sentence makes sense, but note that I personally prefer to say Yours and my, so you could have left the other bits unchanged! –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 18:29

Either "your and my" or "yours and my" is very likely to be folded up into "our" in normal usage, so their usage is maybe more influenced by similar constructions. I would say the preference for "yours and my" is based on the similarity to the more commonly-used "yours and mine". And the preference for "your and my" is based on the fact that it is correct :).

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I'm not sure anyone else will be qualified to approximate the cause of your own personal proclivities if, that is, a logical line of reasoning isn't advocated. I've noticed that people struggle with constructions like "my having a job" or "I appreciate your responding so quickly", rendering them [instead] "me having a job" and "I appreciate you responding so quickly" respectively. And even there it's hard to apprehend whether this answers to a conceptual limitation or, alternately, answers to sheer force of habit. We can safely assume both are at play, of course. It's just that well, per individual, who's to know which is at issue? In your case we can all safely assume it's the latter, though I use the term safely with something of a chuckle. We're all here to sweat the small stuff anyway.

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Let's keep things simple and just assume that I use Yours for the same reason others do. On the basis of that small sample size, yes. But also note that those were written examples, indicating about a 50-50 split, and no-one is disputing that Your is "correct". IMHO it's therefore extremely likely the "incorrect" usage may in fact be more common in speech, where people are less concerned about "correct" usage. In short, this isn't about explaining my idiolect - it's obviously a common if not the dominant usage. –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 18:36
    
1 "I'd like some help figuring out why I .." is pretty much synonymous with an actual request for an explanation, while 2 now asking to keep things simple is essentially to add a qualifier which should have been a part of the original question as, really, it's so difficult to answer that which has yet to be asked. –  Tom Raywood Jan 23 '12 at 18:54
    
I don't understand. I know in the actual question I said I wanted help figuring out why I prefer "yours", but I then gave those Google Books hit counts to show that plenty of others do the same. My comment simply meant what it said - there's nothing peculiar about me in particular. Almost certainly all the people who adopt this usage do it for the same reason, so my "personal proclivities" really have nothing to do with it (they are in fact revolting to some people, but let's not go into that here! :) –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 19:25
    
...anyway, I've edited the question to clarify. –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 19:42
    
Never to offend. –  Tom Raywood Jan 23 '12 at 19:48

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