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Consider the sentences:

  1. Take my picture [handing over a frame]
  2. Take my picture [handing over a camera]

(Photo vs. picture being insignificant - a more contrived example could avoid it; as is the verb 'take', we could even have no verb, but I think it helps to illustrate.)

What is grammatically different between the first, in which the speaker owns the picture, and the second, in which the speaker is to be depicted?


I've considered:

  • Actually I thought of this example reading about oblique (aka objective) case, after encountering it in another language; is (2) oblique ('as the object of preposition' per Wikipedia examples) I wondered, or is it significant that all of Wikipedia's examples use me; not my?
  • Certainly (1) is genitive/possessive - is (2) also, but with the sense of belonging somehow reversed, the speaker belonging to the picture, and if so is there a term for this?
  • So God created man in his owne Image [Genesis 1:27] is another well known example, which I thought might help me find some discussion; unfortunately it didn't. (It's surely not the same construction as if he created man in the image of his {possession-goes-here}?!)
  • (1) really holds place for picture of mine; (2) for picture of me (and in the Genesis example, him and his respectively) - i.e. independent possessive and object personal pronoun, respectively, and shortened to dependent possessive
    • So (2) is posessesive? Was shortening it from picture of me 'valid' in the first place, or is the issue that it's a (widely used) informal form?
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    The difference is in the contextual meanings of take, not of grammar. Grammatically, I suppose the sentences parse identical. – Kris Aug 28 at 11:08
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    @Mari-LouA In the first example, he hands you a photograph of a landscape. In the second, he wants you to photograph him. – Lawrence Aug 31 at 17:32
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    @Lawrence I don't think I have ever heard anyone say or describe passing an image/photo/picture of a scene as "passing a landscape". I can walk past a particular landscape, and a landscape can pass by if I'm travelling... but I don't pass a landscape to someone, Do I? Whatever. Thanks for clearing up my confusion. – Mari-Lou A Aug 31 at 17:38
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    I found a lot of literature on Google by searching for "picture noun" complement with quotes around picture noun to keep the phrase together. Interestingly, my answer here gets cited as an authoritative answer by Google. – John Lawler Sep 2 at 0:03
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    I've changed 'passing' to 'handing over', and 'landscape' to 'frame' to hopefully make that more clear. – OJFord Sep 2 at 15:37
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The difference between the sentences is the meaning of the components, which may be determined from context. As Kris notes, the sentences are grammatically the same.

  • When presented with a photograph, "take" means to receive, and "my picture" is a picture you own.

  • When presented with a camera, "take" means to capture via camera, and "my picture" is a depiction of you.

What if you present someone with both a camera and a photograph?

  • You want the photograph you own to be captured on camera?
  • You want the photograph you own to be received and for your depiction to be captured on camera?

  • You want your depiction captured on camera to resemble the photograph?

  • You want to find out how someone will respond?

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  1. Take my picture [handing over a frame]
  2. Take my picture [handing over a camera]

*In fact the sentences are not grammatically the same, the second uses a pronoun to show connection with the image about to be taken, you cannot posses it as it does not exist yet. Additionally the contextual meanings of take are different as Kris pointed out in comments. Finally the status of Picture as a verb or noun in the first example could be argued. In which case it may or may not be a complete sentence. In fact the whole issue of the first example is wide open to debate.

Is it a picture of him that belongs to someone else?

Is it a picture of him that he owns?

Is it a picture of anything but him, which he owns?

Is it being given away? handed over ? exchanged?

Is it being given to someone to hold?

Is it being moved?


the first example possibly uses the Verb Take and Verb picture and my is possessive

take verb (HOLD) to move in order to hold something in the hand(s):

Can you take this bag while I open the door?

my determiner; of or belonging to me

Possibly...... picture verb [ T ] formal; He was pictured (= an artist had painted him) as a soldier in full uniform.


the second uses the Verb take and the Noun picture with the pronoun my.

take verb [ T ] (ACT) to do something:

I’ve started taking piano lessons.

my pronoun; belonging to or connected with me; the possessive form of I, used before a noun: Note.

My mind went absolutely blank.

picture noun (IMAGE) a drawing, painting, photograph, etc.:

I hate having my picture taken (= being photographed).

Note Falex Grammar's free dictionary includes my as a pronoun, but under the title Possessive Adjectives Free Dictionary

Possessive Adjectives / Pronominal Adjectives "Pronominal" describes something that resembles a pronoun, as by specifying a person, place, or thing, while functioning primarily as another part of speech. A pronominal adjective is an adjective that resembles a pronoun. "Her" in "her car" is a pronominal adjective.

ALL References Cambridge English Dictionary, unless other wise attributed

  • Do you have any other example (or better a source) for 'my <verb>', other than gerunds? – OJFord Sep 3 at 17:01

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