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In this chat message I was attempting to say that I was installing Ubuntu on a friends laptop. What I wrote was,

I had a friend for whom I installed Ubuntu on his laptop.

Grammatically, it seems like it works: if I switch around the sentence a bit, I would still use the same kind of prepositional phrase:

I installed Ubuntu on a friend's laptop for him.

Also, if I simply replace the his for an a, it sounds right:

I had a friend for whom I installed Ubuntu on a laptop.

However, how I initially wrote it, it doesn't sound right. Is what I wrote initially correct, and if not, why not?

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    A laptop could be anybody's laptop. If you want to indicate the laptop belonged to your friend, that is exactly what his was made for. Why do you think it may be incorrect? – oerkelens Jun 5 '17 at 18:41
  • @oerkelens I don't have any grammatical reason for thinking so, it just sounds unusual. So it's just my brain that's a bit messed up? :) – anonymous2 Jun 5 '17 at 18:43
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    I installed Ubuntu on a friend's laptop. If you say I had a friend, he is no longer your friend. I had a friend and installed Ubuntu on his laptop for him. – Lambie Jun 5 '17 at 18:48
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    Like @Lambie, I would have said I installed Ubuntu on my friend's laptop. If you wanted to make it clear that the person was no longer your friend, you could write I installed Windows on my friend's laptop. 8^) – Roger Sinasohn Jun 6 '17 at 19:24
  • @RogerSinasohn, very good. Thanks for the input. :) – anonymous2 Jun 6 '17 at 19:25
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All of the examples given are correct, though they differ slightly in meaning.

In the first two, the use of "his" indicates that the laptop belongs to the friend (and that the friend is male).

In the last example, the use of "a" just indicates that you did your friend a favor by installing Ubuntu on a laptop. It does not specify whether the laptop belongs to the friend or not, nor does it imply the gender of the friend.

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I agree with your judgments about the examples -- specifically, *"I had a friend for whom I installed Ubuntu on his laptop" sounds considerably worse than the other related examples. My reaction to it is like my reaction to examples with resumptive pronouns, so my guess is that the "his" is a resumptive pronoun (see here).

In English, you get a resumptive pronoun when there is a conflict between the requirement that a nominal which is coreferential with the relative pronoun of a relative clause be extracted from the clause, on the one hand, and some other constraint that prevents removing that nominal. In your example, since "who(m)" has been extracted with "for", it and any coreferents should be missing from the relative clause: *"I had a friend for whom I installed Ubuntu on 's laptop", but of course you can't remove just the "NP" part of a "NP's" possessive.

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  • I think you're right. But I do note that The appearance of resumptive pronouns is marginal in standard English, but quite acceptable in French and colloquial English, which I guess is why I don't find it easy to draw a clear line between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" occurrences (and why I often feel there's something "not quite right" about usages such as OP's, even though I don't think they're syntactically incorrect). – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '17 at 17:19
  • That's why we have conjunctions like "and" in this case. But if you used that one people would look at you weirdly...If it were me I'd just make lots of separate clauses to be safe. "I had a friend and I installed Ubuntu on his laptop. I did it for him." – Daniel Ruben Jun 10 '17 at 9:44
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It's awkward because you're using the relative clause object to refer back to your friend when the focus is really his laptop onto which you installed the OS. You're trying to express two ideas, two objects (for whom, on his laptop) -which sound better with two clauses - in one. This makes the construction inefficient. What you probably want to say is "on whose laptop I installed Ubuntu (for him)". Or better still though it sounds a bit formal, use two relative pronouns with an "and" so you have the two clauses: "I had a friend, /for whom/ and /on whose laptop/ I installed Ubuntu."

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  • Thanks for the input! Except I was actually installing Ubuntu... :) – anonymous2 Jun 5 '17 at 19:46
  • Yea I just saw that, pls see fixed answer – Daniel Ruben Jun 5 '17 at 19:59

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