Friday, September 14, 2012

Double Genitive: Twice as Much Possession


Alice e-mailed me with a wonderfully tricky question:
I recently heard someone say: She is a friend of my sister's and I. This doesn't seem right. Should it be: She is a friend of my sister's and mine? Or something else? Thanks for your help with this!
This is an awesome example of how easily we can get our knickers in a twist when there are too many things going on at once. In this case, there is a compound pronoun plus something nasty called a double genitive. Many English teachers and brainiacs would get this wrong, but Alice got it right. Bravo, Alice, you smart thing!

What the heck is a double genitive? Think of it as possessive overkill. In the sentence She is a friend of my sister's, possession is signaled twice: first with the preposition 'of' and then with the apostrophe + s. It sounds terribly awkward, but the grammar is correct.

Double genitive = preposition 'of' + possessive noun or pronoun. He's a friend of my boss's. Mr. Smith is a colleague of Melanie's. She's a favorite hairdresser of ours.

Where does it all go wrong? Even people who get the double genitive right in a sentence with a single pronoun will often get confused when faced with a compound pronoun.

Let's break it down:
  1. Write the sentence twice, using simple nouns instead of the compound structure.
    She is a friend of my sister's. She is a friend of I.

    a. The first sentence is a correct use of the double genitive.
    b. The second sentence is incorrect because it includes a subject pronoun instead of a possessive pronoun.
  2. Replace the subject pronoun with a possessive pronoun.
    She is a friend of my sister's.
    She is a friend of mine That works!
  3. Then put the conjunction back together.
    She is a friend of my sister's and mine.
Correction: She is a friend of my sister's and mine.

More examples of the double genitive: 
  • She's a former teacher of mine. She's a former teacher of Sam's. >> She's a former teacher of Sam's and mine. Or: She's a former teacher of ours. 
  • He's a neighbor of my sister's. He's a neighbor of my brother-in-law's. >> He's a neighbor of my sister's and brother-in-law's.
This may look and sound dreadful, but it's correct.

4 comments:

  1. I've done a grammar test of The Telegraph.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationquestions/9987757/Good-grammar-test-can-you-pass.html
    Good grammar test could you pass? -was its title. My test was 67% with 3 mistakes from 12.

    I would like to ask this mistake:
    9 .Which of these sentences is grammatically correct?
    "Are you happy with the idea of my teaching you grammar?"
    "Are you happy with the idea of me teaching you grammar?"
    ✓Both

    What is the explanation the idea of me?

    Regards:
    Kati Svaby

    email:kati.svaby@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello,

      I would like to correct my question:
      What is the explanation of the expression:
      "THE IDEA OF ME" ?

      Delete
  2. Don't you mind if I teach you?

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is an awesome blog.I have bookmarked.The check sentence structure is a well known site especially made for students. In which you can get different methods of sentence making.

    ReplyDelete