English as a Second Language/English


QUESTION: Sometimes you're supposed to say things like "friend of John's" instead of "friend of John". When is it that this clitic 's is to be used? and why?

ANSWER: Hi Andrew,

interesting question you have here.

Both expressions you're inquiring about are correct, but I prefer "a friend of John's"

"A friend of John's" is called a double genitive or a double possesive (similar to "a friend of mine/his") and is a standard construction in English.

Two conditions must apply for a double genitive –a phrase such as a friend of John’s–to occur:
- the word after "of" must refer to an animate object, and
- the word before "of" must involve only a portion of the animate object’s possessions.

Take this other example:

- a painting of Mary (a painting representing Mary)
- a painting of Mary's (a painting belonging to Mary)

here the difference is more obvious.

Feel free to follow up if you require further help with this.

Looking forward to more of your questions.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: You wrote : the word before "of" must involve only a portion of the animate object’s possessions.
I don't really understand what you meant by that?

Hi Andrew,

to clarify ...

the word before "of" must refer to only part of the things that the animate object possesses. In other words, it doesn't involve all the possessions of the said animate object.

For ex:

The friends of John attended his wedding. (meaning all John's friends came to the wedding)

- here you can't say "the friends of John's" because the word before "of" refers to all John's (the animated object's) possessions.

I hope this helps.


English as a Second Language

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Amy Baker


I can answer question about grammar, spelling, syntax, idioms, reading and/or writing that pertain to English as a Second Language. I am knowledgeable about both TOEFL and IELTS.


I'm a certified ESL teacher with 12 years of experience teaching K-12 and adults.

BSc MEd TESL post grad program for k-12 TESL post grad program for adult ed

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.