I wanted to know why and when to use double-genitive. So for example why can't we use 'I am a fan of YOU' instead of 'I am fan of YOURS'. This is so as using the word 'of' itself meant that the noun mentioned first (before 'of') already belongs to the second noun (after 'of'). For example, in 'I am a fan of YOU' , the word 'of', to me, already suggests that 'I am your fan' without using 'YOURS'. It is like if we use 'fan of YOURS', it meant like 'I am your fan that belongs to you'.

So why is it necessary to use the double-genitive here?

A similar question has been asked: Why use apostrophe-s to denote possession when using 'of'

But one of the answers said that it is optional to put apostrophe for the example given in the question except to clarify the meaning of the sentence. (This is a picture of Bill/Bill's) So, what are some examples that are compulsory to use the double-genitive?

For examples, is it:

1) 'fan of YOURS' or 'fan of YOU'?

2) 'The death of HIS is...' or 'The death of HIM is...'

3) 'friend of HER' or 'friend of HERS'

4) 'queen of England' or 'queen of England's'

On a side note, we say:

5) 'meaning of the WORD' instead of 'meaning of the WORD'S'

6) 'son of my FRIEND' instead of 'son of my FRIEND'S'

7) 'plays of Shakespeare' instead of 'plays of Shakespeare's'

8) 'city of Rome' instead of 'city of Rome's'

Overall, my question is why is it that we sometimes uses double-genitive and sometimes don't? Is it because of whether the noun before 'of' is an object or a person except in the case of 6)? If not, when do we use double-genitive and why? (in the event that the meaning of the sentence doesn't change regardless of it being double-genitive or not)

  • Hugely related: friend of mine or friend of me?. It doesn't appear that we actually have a good answer to the mine/me difference. – Andrew Leach Oct 19 '16 at 8:55
  • 1
    There seems to be some confusion here. "A friend of hers" means "one of her (several) friends", but there is only one queen of England at a time, so you wouldn't say "a queen of England's". "The city of Rome" names a particular place, not 'one of Rome's cities'. You would say "The son of my friend", but if that friend had more than one son you might say "A son of my friend's". – Kate Bunting Oct 19 '16 at 11:25
  • A fan of yours = one of your fans. Seems like maybe the s is getting moved from fans to yours due to the switch in placement. – developerwjk Oct 19 '16 at 13:53
  • Also, I don't think "of" is always a genitive (at least not genitive in the sene of possessive genitive). For instance "Give me a quart of sugar." Its not possessive. Its showing separation of (impossible not to use that word) some of (there it is again) the sugar from the rest. "A fan of yours" seems to operate the same way. Its not a double possessive. Its certainly true that "of" is not possessive in "one of your fans." – developerwjk Oct 19 '16 at 13:57
  • 1 and 3 are examples of the same type of phrase and both would start with 'a'. Your other examples are different. 2. It would be more natural to say 'His death is...' 4, 7 and 8 all name a particular person, body of work or place and would start with 'the', although you might say "The character Titania is in a play of Shakespeare's". In 5, again, THE meaning of the word refers to a specific thing. – Kate Bunting Oct 20 '16 at 9:21

There was one of your examples that made the difference clear to me (split by me to better facilitate my explanations below):

  1. This is a picture of Bill
  2. This is a picture of Bill’s

In the first case, ‘This is a picture of Bill’, using the single genitive, it is a genitive of quality, ɔ: that which describes what the picture is; in other words, it is a picture showing Bill. This becomes clear when replacing ‘Bill’ with some other noun, such as ‘[a] tree’, ‘[the] colour blue’:

1a. This is a picture of [a] tree. ɔ: There is a tree in the picture.

1b. This is a picuture of [the] colour blue. ɔ: The picture is blue.

In the second case, ‘This is a picture of Bill’s’, the final genitive-’s indicates possession; in other words it is a genitive of belonging. That means the sentence says something about who has ownership of the noun. Using examples 1a and b above, this becomes clear by the absurdity of the new sentences:

2a. This is a picture of [a] tree’s.

2b. This is a picture of [the] colour blue’s.

Either there is something missing in those sentences—one could ask ‘Of a tree’s what?’ or ‘Of the colour blue’s what?’—and get an answer such as ‘This is a picture of a tree’s trunk’, or ‘This is a picture of the colour blue’s paint box’, though the latter still is a bit weird.

Therefore, one can conclude that when using a double genitive, it indicates posession, genitivus subiectivus; and when using a single genitive (just ‘of’), it usually indicates

  • quality (genitivus qualitatis: a woman of great knowledge—ɔ: a very knowledgable woman),
  • specification (genitivus explicativus: penalty of death—ɔ: death penalty),
  • the object of an action (genitivus obiectivus: fear of death—ɔ: to fear death),
  • kind, as in what type of thing something counted is (genitivus generis: a large number of soldiers)
  • part, as in a whole that something is part of (genitivus partitivus: she alone of them all)

Source: Lots and lots of Latin, referencing the standard Latin grammar in Norway, Samson Eitrem’s Latinsk grammatikk, 3rd edition, Aschehoug 1996, §§ 78–83.

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    The double possessive can also indicate part: "that nose of his" is not the nose he owns, but the nose that is part of him. – sumelic Feb 3 '17 at 20:08
  • +sumelic That would match the genitivus partitivus then, wouldn’t it? – Canned Man Feb 6 '17 at 9:30
  • Yes, but you listed "genitivus partivus" as one of the uses of the single genitive. – sumelic Mar 12 '18 at 9:56

Regarding the 'double genitive', here is what the 'Practical English Usage' by Michael Swan says: enter image description here

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