The Double Possessive

By February 8, 2019Grammar

The Double Possessive I

This is the first of two parts, in that I believe it is easier to grasp somewhat complex grammatical issues in bitesize chunks wherever possible. At least that is the theory.

One of the websites below discusses this issue in the encapsulating title Double Genitive: Twice as Much Possession.

Here we go then.

My author, Kerry Barnes, wrote these sentences in her latest book: The Rules

‘Victor was a close and trusted friend of my father’s. He’s now on my payroll, so we can speak freely in his company.’

‘You hoped to brainwash me into believing that you had my back, that I couldn’t survive without you, while you picked and clawed away at my business and my money, but, most of all, my name and that of my father’s.’

Why, you might ask, does a second possessive need to be included in the phrase trusted friend of my father’s and my name and that of my father’s?

Isn’t the fact that the word ‘of’ is sufficient by itself to imply possession in each of the above cases?

So, what is a double genitive?

It occurs when the preposition ‘of’ and the apostrophe plus s are shown in a phrase, clause, or sentence.

Grammar has structure, and so you won’t be surprised to find that there are rules here that help a writer to get the double possessive right every time!

One rule is that what follows the word ‘of’ will be definite and human. Where it is inanimate, we do not use the double possessive.

The second rule is that what precedes the word ‘of’ will be indefinite.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Where the double genitive is used

The chambers contain photographs of the judge’s.

  • Where the double genitive is not used

The chambers contain photographs of the judge.

Immediately one can see why a double genitive is needed in the first case but not in the second. The double possessive enables the reader to distinguish very clearly the semantic meaning of the sentence. In the first example, the reader should grasp that the photographs in the judge’s chambers belong to the judge. In the second example, the reader is expected to interpret this as meaning that in the judge’s chambers there are photographs of the judge.

Clear then, I take it?

Well, let’s see, shall we? What about the examples below?

I am a friend of Kerry Barnes’s [actually I am her editor, but I am also a friend of hers.]

I am a friend of Kerry Barnes.

Are these meanings the same? Actually, they are not, and so the double genitive has a useful purpose in avoiding ambiguity.

In the first example, I am saying that Kerry Barnes looks upon me as a friend of hers. In this example, the reader will interpret this as Kerry Barnes being instrumental in having a more active role in the relationship. In the second example, I am saying that I see her as a friend of mine.

As alluded to above, when referring to inanimate objects, the double possessive is not permitted.

So, for example, he is a friend of the cricket club’s is incorrect: it should read he is a friend of the cricket club. The clue here is in the word ‘a friend’ which makes this definite and of course ‘cricket club’, which is inanimate.

The second and related post will look at possessive pronouns: mine, thine, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs.

Useful websites

http://snarkygrammarguide.blogspot.com/2012/09/double-genitive-twice-as-much-possession.html

https://www.dailywritingtips.com/double-possessive/

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