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He's a friend of mine.
That's a car of his.

Why do we use the possessive when the meaning would be the same while not using it (e.g. a friend of me and a car of him)? I thought maybe it is short for That's a car of his [cars], but I have no way of making sure; it sounds a little odd that way to me.

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2 Answers 2

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They're examples of the double genitive/possessive, which is perfectly valid and has been around in English for centuries. The of already denotes "possession", but we do this again when we use mine/his instead of me/him.

The fact that we don't say John is a friend of me/him is really just idiomatic for those particular forms. But that "idiomatic principle" isn't universally observed - people often say, for example, He's a friend of John. Though they also say a friend of John's - both forms are valid there.

Here's an NGram showing how friend of her has gradually given way to friend of hers over the past couple of centuries, as the "reach" of the idiomatic mine/his has been extended.

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    The tail end of that Ngram tells me she has fewer and fewer friends as time goes on.
    – user13141
    Oct 17, 2011 at 6:58
  • @onomatomaniak: She might have got more for all I know. People might become her friends rather than friends of her[s]. Oct 17, 2011 at 13:50
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    Good, except "of" does not always indicate possession. It may also be used to indicate an attribute associated with but not possessed by a person or thing. For example, "kind words of yours" (whose?) versus "kind of you". (of whom?). Consider here German dative versus genitive cases. Feb 12, 2012 at 3:50
  • @Jack Robbin: That's what I meant by putting "possession" in quotes. Feb 12, 2012 at 5:06
  • There is a slight difference on occasion. He's a friend of John's connotes 'one of (the set of) John's friends' whereas Fredonia is an enemy of Ruritania doesn't necessarily mean that there are other enemies. Jan 3, 2013 at 22:14
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We all should know that

Prepositions are usually followed by a Noun (That's why it is called preposition - Pre + Position. The word whose position is just before a Noun.)

Now consider two sentences

  • This is my pen and that is your pen. (Right sentence)

but if we don't want repetition, so we avoid "pen"

The sentence gets short

This is my pen and that is yours.

NOTE: "yours" includes a noun, which is a pen

but

"your" DOESN'T include a noun

similarly

"Hers" includes a noun

"HER" DOESN'T include a noun

now as told earlier, propositions are placed before a noun.

So, There is a friend of...? My/mine??

"My" doesn't include a noun

"Mine" includes a noun.

After a preposition, there has to be a noun or a noun case (possessive pronoun)

  • There is a friend of mine - is right

  • ... of me - is wrong.

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  • We normally say ....it is bad of he/him???? Sep 17, 2018 at 6:30
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    Because you are a new contributor we (EL&U veterans and fogies) are expected to be "gentle" and kind towards you. But, I'm afraid, this looks like a terrible answer. Why the need to punctuate so many words in capital letters? Writing in all caps is considered rude, people will think you are shouting and this coupled with the excessive use of ellipses (…) and question marks (?) makes the answer very hard to read and follow. It does not look professional in the slightest. Please fix the formatting.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 17, 2018 at 8:15
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    user @bookmanu deserves a special badge for tidying up the answer. My downvote still remains though. The OP is asking about "mine" and "his" in place of "of me" and "of him".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 17, 2018 at 10:02

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