While reading a letter written by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1588, I came across a certain construction that doesn't seem to be grammatical in English:

RIGHT trustie, and righte welbelovid cousines wee greete you well. Whereas heertofore upon the advertismentes, from time to time and from sondrie places, of the great preparations of foren forces, made with a full intention to invade this our Realme and other our dominions

If I were writing a letter like this, I would have to use some wording like "other dominions of ours" or "our other dominions". (Or maybe something like "other(s) of our dominions", but I'm not quite sure about that—it may be material for another question.)

I checked the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) entries for our and other, but I didn't see any examples or explanation of the grammar of "other our". I would appreciate it if anyone could point me to a source that explains the grammar of this construction, and why it doesn't seem to be grammatical in the English of today.

I do have a guess about what is going on. To me, it seems like Elizabeth is using our as a "regular" adjective, and not as a determiner. That is, I think the structure of "other our dominions" is the same as the structure of a phrase like "other British dominions".

Our in modern English doesn't act like an (ordinary) adjective

This usage doesn't seem to be possible in standard modern English: I think our for me always functions as a determiner. This is consistent with the analysis where our in modern English is viewed as a "genitive/possessive pronoun" (not as an adjective). Pronouns are used in place of noun phrases, and we can say that a word like her stands for a genitive/possessive noun phrase like "the Queen's". According to this analysis, it makes sense that I can't say things like "other her dominions", because I also can't say things like "other the Queen's dominions". Genitive noun phrases and genitive pronouns can't be put into the "attributive adjective slot" in a modern English noun phrase.

Our in Elizabeth's letter seems to be used like an ordinary adjective

But the description of our as a "possessive adjective" seems to be more valid in older forms of English. For example, the OED says that our originally inflected like an adjective: "Old English ūre, adjective, was declined like ordinary adjectives in -e, e.g. masculine accusative singular ūrne, masculine and neuter genitive singular ūres, masculine and neuter dative singular and common plural ūrum, etc. "

If I'm right about our being used as an adjective and not as a determiner in the quoted passage, I'd like to know at what point this use of our (and other "possessive adjectives") became impossible in standard English.

Other examples that I found

I searched Google for some more examples of the phrase "other our dominions", and found that it occurred as late as 1665, in the Charter of Carolina. It seems quite possible though that a charter might use archaic language, so this doesn't show that the construction was in common use in the 17th century.

I also found an early example (actually several examples) of this construction in Edward I's Confirmation of the Charters in 1297. Interestingly, it looks like a parallel structure is used in the French version: English "other our ministers" corresponds to French "autres nos ministres". I don't know if this might indicate that the use of this construction was influenced by French grammar.

I also found examples from Google Books of our being used "like an adjective" in other contexts: for example, after the determiner any (e.g. "any our Subjects" or "any our dominions").

To be clear, I'm not only interested in "other our dominions", but also in other phrases of the same structure, like "other his books", "other my shoes" or so on. I want to know the grammar of this construction, when it was used, and when it stopped being used.

  • "other our" could be a transcription error made when copying a draft or taking dictation. What did scribes do to correct such errors? I wonder if there are earlier drafts of these documents that include "other our" or "other of our", which was in use at the same time (apparently, e.g., in the Magna Carta). – Xanne Aug 27 '18 at 22:20
  • @Xanne: Using Google Books, I found enough examples of "other our" in old texts to convince me that it is not just a transcription error. I can link to more if you are still doubtful. I also think that it would be interesting to know how this usage compares to "other of our" – sumelic Aug 27 '18 at 22:27
  • I seem to recall that this collocation of a quantifier or demonstrative determiner with a possessive determiner (any my servants, these our commands, this his friend &c) was not uncommon in EME, and lingered particularly in legal contexts into the 18th century. – StoneyB Aug 27 '18 at 22:51
  • I'm convinced, from Google Ngram's results (there are of course false positives). Still playing devil's advocate, the peculiarity may be in the use of "other" (or "any") rather than "our." – Xanne Aug 27 '18 at 22:54
  • It seems to me as though it has been replaced with 'other dominions of ours'. 'other books of his' etc. But it is an interesting treatise of an EME construction you have given us. Thanks. – WS2 Aug 27 '18 at 23:07

I couldn't find much, but did find an explanation in a scholarly edition (published originally at the end of the 19th century) of William Caxton's Blanchardine and Eglatine from ca. 1498. There must be more modern info sources available, but I didn't happen upon them..

According to the editor, in the 14th and 15 centuries there was a movement away from the Old English partitive genitive (In Old English for instance 'mannig mana' meant many men. The 'a' on mana was a genitive marker.) towards simple apposition of which the following examples are listed:

Chaucer (Einenkel, p. 93): 'A busshel venym,' IV. 267; 'no morsel bred,' III. 215; 'the beste galoun wyn,' III. 249.

E. E. Wills (ed. Furnivall): 'a peyre schetys,' 4/16, 5/8, 41/24, 76/16, 101/18; 'a peyre bedes,' 5/3.

Bury Wills (Camden Society): 'a pece medowe,' 47; 'a peyre spectaclys,' 15; 'a quart wyne,' 16; 'a galon wine,' 30.

By Caxton's time however, there was a break in this development too, while an older of-genitive construction became considerably more versatile.

Nonetheless traces remained of this appositive use. Examples from Blanchardyn include "other" used to mean "other of" and "any" meaning "any of".

Other is used for 'others of.' 'Other her gentyll women,' 76/31; 'other his prysoners,' 121/25.

Also any occurs for 'any of':—'Affermyng that I oughte rather tenprynte his actes and noble feates than of Godefroy of boloyne or ony the eight.'—Caxton's Preface to Morte Darthur, 2/1.

So that may go some way to answering your question: 'other his prisoners' seems to correspond to 'other our dominions'. Although to be honest, there seems a bit of explaining missing between the genitives of quantity (a galon wine etc.) to genitives of the form 'other his prysoners'.

  • 1
    Thanks; this is exactly the kind of thing that I was looking for. I'll think over this explanation a bit and see if it makes sense to me – sumelic Aug 29 '18 at 2:29
  • After thinking (much later) about it, I've accepted this answer, as I've since found out that even "other the" and "any the" could formerly be found in expressions like "other the like" and "any the like". So the change does seem to have been in the usage of words like "other" and "any", rather than in the usage of words like "our" (as I first thought). – sumelic Jan 2 at 4:43

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