Like many non-native speakers, formulations like "a friend of his" strike me as counter-intuitive, but I'm trying to adapt. Now I have a strange situation: I want to apply it to abstract entities. The sentence would be:

"What can we do with assignments and hierarchies of theirs?"

(I use assignments because I'm trying to avoid repetition. In the real text it's "blabla transmogrifying assignments").

I think this sounds awkward, and I can't recall ever having read anything like that. Is it possible that this type of construction is only valid for people? Or maybe it's a slightly different meaning of "of", and there's no possessive aspect to my usage of "of"?

I'm aware of Why do you say "friend of mine" instead of "friend of me"? and Is "a friend of his" a used phrase? but all the examples had a person as the possessing subject.

  • There are definitely ways this can sound natural: "speaking of foo and bar functions, a property of theirs is baz"; "that wheel of its is always coming loose". Some constructions are less natural: ?"speaking of the table, a color of its is blue". May be related to how much agency we imagine the entity in question has, but I'm not sure.
    – aedia λ
    Jul 26, 2011 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


I would have cast that sentence as "What can we do with assignments and their heirarchies?". I can't even imagine saying, "I sat on the table, and a leg of its was wobbly." I can't think of an inanimate example were that construction sounds natural.

  • "I sat on a table and one of its legs was wobbly."
    – oosterwal
    Jul 26, 2011 at 3:58
  • 1
    Exactly, but you'd never say "... a leg of its ..."
    – Richard A
    Jul 26, 2011 at 4:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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