• My father's hands → modified by a possessive noun
  • The hands of my father → modified by a preposition

When is "my father's hands" preferable over "the hands of my father", and vice versa?

  • Take a look at this previous post The use of preposition “of” here: english.stackexchange.com/q/206004/14666 – Kris Jan 25 '15 at 7:57
  • I am not saying this post is a duplicate because the cited post has no satisfactory answer. – Kris Jan 25 '15 at 7:58
  • There is a whole tag on this english.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/possessive-s-vs-of – Kris Jan 25 '15 at 7:59
  • 1
    what has been helpful are some of the contributor explanations to the question, 'i am reading a novel of steinbeck' vs 'im reading steinbeck's novel: since steinbeck wrote more than one novel, it would not be entirely accurate to state that 'im reading steinbeck's novel'. since my father has only one pair of hands, it might be preferable, and more natural to simply say 'my father's hands'. however, i do wonder what kind of implications people get from a sentence like, 'the hands of my father' – Lucie Duck Jan 25 '15 at 8:18
  • 1
    This matter is too complicated for me, I'll leave it in the hands of my father. (More metaphorical hands rather than actual hands). – Mynamite Jan 25 '15 at 16:27

"My father's hands" is nearly always preferable, in America, simply because it is shorter.

Of course you could use "hands of my father" anytime if you like. You would sound formal, or antiquated, or like a non-native speaker—especially if you extended that usage to, for instance "the hands of you" ,"the hands of me", "the hands of him", "the hands of us", "the hands of her", the hands of them". It would simply take you longer to talk.

In Spanish, I believe you have to say it that way. Las manos de mi Padre. Many things take more words to express in Spanish than in English. Apart from colonial history, that might help explain the dominance of English in world commerce. It's quicker.

  • antiquated was what i had been thinking about concerning the usage, the hands of my father -- i would never use this structure for conversations, but i have seen it being used in literature, and i wondered about it in terms of literary styling. and of what advantage i would gain from choosing it. – Lucie Duck Jan 25 '15 at 12:25
  • Well, there is a certain amount of gravitas to it. I recall that Barack Obama's first book was titled "Dreams of my Father" rather than "My Father's Dreams", but it might mean "dreams I had OF my father". Maybe that double entendre was intentional. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 25 '15 at 12:32
  • that's just it - that's exactly how i would style my title, if i wrote a book. however, to solely use that structure to create a double entendre isnt a strong enough reason. one has to wonder what barack or his editor had in mind when they chose to put it that way. they probably went with it simply for the gravitas! – Lucie Duck Jan 25 '15 at 12:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.