In English phrases like

Jesse is a friend of mine/*of me

the case of the word "mine" is not the oblique ("me") which usually occurs with prepositions ("That's a part of me that you don't see too often")

What licenses the genitive case ("my/mine") in possessional phrases with the preposition "of" instead of the oblique case ("me"), which most prepositional phrases take?

A few more examples (where the # ones sound a bit odd to me, but that just might be semantic satiation messing with my judgements):

I am a friend of Jesse's/#of Jesse

I like that girlfriend of Jesse's/#of Jesse

I'm a friend of the king/#of the king's

She has the voice of an angel/*of an angel's

  • This is really not a linguistic question; it's been covered by this answer in ELU.SE
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 17:22
  • @jlawler Thank you for the link. It does not answer this question (why does "of" license "mine" and not "me," which most prepositions, including "of" in many situations licenses), but rather the question of "why use 'a friend of mine' vs 'my friend.'" I do not think "definiteness" is enough to establish this case usage. Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 17:53
  • 1
    Basically, there is no "Why?". This is an idiom, a special construction, and it has its own rules. All a linguist can do is lay out the facts, and show how they are linked together, as far as possible. Answers to "why" questions always require some reason that a person would say something, and here we have no information about that, except that the construction has some sort of usage among some speech groups. That's it, pretty much.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 17:58
  • 2
    As for case, you need to distinguish between real cases, which English does not have, and theoretical cases, which are tags invented by linguists to identify special features of their theories. It seems to me that you may be under the impression that they really refer to some actual entities, which require "licensing", or something else. In fact, there are many many ways to imagine cases (look up "Case Grammar" for instances), and not all of them are useful. None of them are enforced, in any event, except by syntax professors.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 18:46
  • I don't think it's the of as such e.g. Here lies Joan Muggins, beloved wife of Stan Muggins / the father of the bride. It seems to me that constructions like a friend of Jesse present the friend of Jesse part more as a single unit than constructions like a friend of Jesse's, but I'm struggling to articulate the difference. Imagine that Jesse is the leader of some spooky cult - I think its members might go around saying I am a friend of Jesse to indicate that they belonged. IOW, in the cases where the plain form is used, the whole expression is somehow 'a thing'...
    – JD2000
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 6:49

2 Answers 2


The way I understand it, "mine" is not simply an inflection of "me" but a placeholder for "my friends", like in:

These are my friends. - These friends are mine.

The "of" in "friend of mine" doesn't express possession. Rather, it's used to single something out from a collection. So:

a friend of mine = one friend from the group of my friends


A genetive construction can only be composed with words belonging either to the nominal paradigm or the pronoun paradigm.

Moreover, this construction is used to encode the relation between a part and a whole. The head of genetive construction is generally the part and the dependent is the whole.

In addition, semantically, the whole can be conceived as a plural entity (1 is a part of 10) or as a singular entity (0.1 is a part of 1).

That being said, if you consider that the dependent is a plural, then the only pronoun you can use is the possessive pronoun.

In English, the plural possessive pronoun is not marked (mine = my car / my cars), but has a zero morpheme.

  • 1
    Downvotes aside, I can see a potentially plausible background to how this usage might have formed in this answer (unless we already know it arose differently; anyhow, I don't entirely agree with the comments on "why" being nonsensical: it doesn't make sense to wonder why people say it at this time, because they just do, but it's certainly interesting to trace how the idiom or structure arose historically). So, if I understand it correctly, this answer is saying that "a friend of mine" could come from a more explicit construct like "a friend of my group of friends". That would be interesting.
    – LjL
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 18:20
  • @LjL Yes, it is my point exactly.
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 18:40

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