Is it right to use double possessives like

  • a good idea of Tom's

Are they correct? And when do we use them?

  • possible duplicate of Is "a friend of his" a used phrase? – Nicole Apr 30 '15 at 14:13
  • The supposed duplicate does ask the same question (though only with pronouns in the possessive), but the answers don't explain how or why the construction is used, which is what the OP appears to want to know. – John Lawler Apr 30 '15 at 14:58
  • Briefly, this construction is a way to modify a noun phrase with a possessive and an article. Normally if an article is used, possessives can't, and vice versa -- some linguists would say that they each fill the Determiner slot, excluding the other. But English has two possessive constructions, one morphological and one syntactic. If you use an article before the noun syntactically, you can still get a morphological possessive, in a prepositional phrase after the noun. Think of it as a special way you hafta fold the tortilla to keep the jumbo taco ingredients from falling on your lap. – John Lawler Apr 30 '15 at 15:04
  • @JohnLawler: Why don't you write an answer? It's not only articles anyway, since we need the construction for "two friends of his", "no friend of his", "that friend of his" and so on. Also, order is important, and distinguishes between "two friends of his" and "his two friends", as well as "many friends of his" and "his many friends". – user21820 Apr 30 '15 at 17:00
  • Also, note that for personal pronouns it was acceptable at least in older English to say things like "these my words" but it sounds wrong to modern English speakers who would say "these words of mine". – user21820 Apr 30 '15 at 17:05

Both genitives can be used and it is called double genitive. Double genitive has a typical meaning of expressing one of or a particluar. For example a painting of Van Gogh's refers to only one, emphasizing that one from all (many) paintiings. It has a so called superemphatic meaning.

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