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1. I was looking through a reference source and it in, it had some examples of double possessives.

I am wondering why in the examples below, we cannot say "a friend of my uncle" but have to say "a friend's my uncle's" The source seemed to say that the second phrase in quotes is the right one because it is basically saying "my uncle's friend." OK, but I cannot quite dispel the notion the former phrase in quotes can be the right one. (Sorry, if I used the word "one" indiscriminately.)

Help.

2. Can you check these two sentences and tell me which verb is right?

1. When was/is the last time you went shopping?

2. When was/is your birthday?
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Comments  
In fact, I think one should say:
"a friend of my uncle's"

1. When was/is the last time you went shopping? Only was seems OK to me here, as this action was performed in the past.

2. When was/is your birthday? Both can work here: was for the latest happening/celebration of the birthday, is for the general sense (My birthday is April 28, i.e. every year)
BelieverI am wondering why in the examples below, we cannot say "a friend of my uncle" but have to say "a friend's my uncle's" The source seemed to say that the second phrase in quotes is the right one because it is basically saying "my uncle's friend." OK, but I cannot quite dispel the notion the former phrase in quotes can be the right one. (Sorry, if I used the word "one" indiscriminately.)
"He is a friend of my uncle." This is grammatically correct. "He is a friend's uncle." This is also grammatically correct, albeit with a different meaning. "He is a friend's my uncle's." is gibberish. "He is a friend of my uncle's." is gibberish, unless it is a typo with an errant apostrophe where the plural should have been used.
1. When was/is the last time you went shopping?
Both are correct. To me, there is no difference in meaning.
2. When was/is your birthday?
Marius was correct on this point.
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Thank you.

There was a typo. Aside from that, why do you think Marius and the reference source seem have noted the phrase "a friend of my uncle's" and not "a friend of my uncle" as the only possible correct phrase?

I must note that the phrase in the original post "a friend's my uncle's" should be corrected as "a friend of my uncle's."
BelieverThank you.

There was a typo. Aside from that, why do you think Marius and the reference source seem have noted the phrase "a friend of my uncle's" and not "a friend of my uncle" as the only possible correct phrase?

I must note that the phrase in the original post "a friend's my uncle's" should be corrected as "a friend of my uncle's."
From Cobuild Collins Lexicon:

Of is used to indicate possession. It can also be used to indicate other kinds of relationship between people or things.
...the home of a sociology professor.
...the sister of the Duke of Urbino.
At the top of the hill Hilary Jackson paused for breath.


You can use of in front of a possessive pronoun such as `mine', `his', or `theirs'. You do this to indicate that someone is one of a group of people or things connected with a particular person. For example, instead of saying `He is one of my friends', you can say `He is a friend of mine.'
He's a very good friend of mine.
I talked to a colleague of yours recently.

You can use of like this in front of other possessives.
...a friend of my mother's.
She was a great friend of Lorna Cook's.


The 's is sometimes omitted, especially in American English.
...a close friend of Mr Reagan.
Both are OK here, Believer. The double genitive has been around as an idiomatic way of expressing this for a long time, although the simpler of-genitive usually works as well. The classic paradigm is that of the photograph:

This is my wife's photograph. Does she own it? Is she portrayed in it? The only escape is the double genitive:

This is a photograph of my wife.
This is a photograph of my wife's.

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Mister MicawberThis is my wife's photograph. Does she own it? Is she portrayed in it? The only escape is the double genitive:

This is a photograph of my wife.
This is a photograph of my wife's.

Hello, Guru. I don't think that I understand you. Are you suggesting that this last sentence is grammatically correct? I do not think so. Are you suggesting that it is in somewhat common use? I do not think so. If you answered yes to either of these questions, can you tell me what this means to you? It means nothing to me. Perhaps this means to you that this is a photograph that belongs to my wife, as in this is my wife's. I would consider this not only poor grammar, but highly stilted and inferior in all but the most colloquial of circumstances. In this is my wife's, the noun is implied, and is left to follow the possesive. In your example, the possessed precedes the possessive construction, and seems highly contrived, unnatural, and inferior. Also, I have never heard it used.
I guess you don't get out much, Anon. Here is a sampling of respectable online sources. Doing a bit of Google research yourself will turn up many, many more.

The American Heritage Dictionary:

Grammarians have sometimes objected to the so-called double genitive construction, as in a friend of my father's; a book of mine. But the construction has been used in English since the 14th century and serves a useful purpose. It can help sort out ambiguous phrases like Bob's photograph, which could refer either to a photograph of Bob (that is, revealing Bob's image) or to one in Bob's possession. A photograph of Bob's, can only be a photo that Bob has in his possession, which may or may not show Bob's image. Moreover, in some sentences the double genitive offers the only way to express what is meant. There is no substitute for it in a sentence such as That's the only friend of yours that I've ever met, since sentences such as That's your only friend that I've ever met and That's your only friend, whom I've ever met are awkward or inaccurate.

The Columbia Guide to Standard AmE:

Although English has long and happily employed the double genitive, as in That lawnmower of Eleanor’s works fine, this construction, which wraps both the periphrastic genitive with of and the inflected genitive with the apostrophe plus s around Eleanor to make possession double, is now limited to our Informal and Semiformal writing and to the lowest levels of our speech, if we use it at all. Once again eighteenth-century argument (that one genitive is enough, and two are improper) has at least partly won out over exuberance, hyperbole, and redundancy. But only partly. A good many of us do use some double genitives and do not notice that they are double. Some language liberals argue that in Informal and Casual contexts the double genitive is idiomatic and not overkill, but few editors of Standard English will be likely to let it stand in Formal writing. It’s either friends of my sister or my sister’s friends; even in conversation, friends of my sister’s may grate harshly on some purists’ ears.

Random House:

The construction where a word is marked by two possessive indicators, the word of and a possessive case ('s) or possessive pronoun, has been in the language for at least six centuries and has been a subject of grammatical discussion for the last two. This construction is known by various names, including the double possessive, the double genitive, the appositional of-phrase, and the post-genitive.
The main thing to remember here is that this "problem" is of almost purely theoretical interest. No native speaker of the language has any difficulty understanding what "I borrowed a book of John's" means.
The genitive has several different functions in English, one of which is to indicate possession. Thus, John's picture can mean 'a picture that John owns'. However, the genitive can also indicate other associations, so that as an objective genitive, John's picture means 'a picture representing John; John's portrait'. This ambiguity is one reason the double possessive is used: it allows speakers of idiomatic English to make the distinction between "a picture of John" (that is, a portrait of John) and "a picture of John's" (a picture owned by John). Though your example, with "nephew," can work with or without the 's, the "picture" example has a distinct meaning each way.
We can also note that double possessives with possessive pronouns (rather than 's possessives) cannot be written any other way: You can say "a nephew of John" rather than "a nephew of John's," but if you start with "a nephew of his" you're stuck; it is completely unidiomatic to say "a nephew of him" (though of course "his nephew" is a possibility).
Grammarians who study the double possessive have made some useful observations. The first noun is almost always indefinite ("a picture of John's," but not "the picture of John's"; "friends of ours" but not "the friends of ours" or any other specifier). The second noun is human (or otherwise animate) and definite ("an admirer of hers" is possible, but "an admirer of the furniture's" is unidiomatic; "of Jane's" but not "of a woman's").
The combination of indefiniteness and definiteness is not possible with other constructions: rewriting "friends of ours" into "our friends" makes "friends" definite, for example. In your case, "John's nephew" means 'a specific nephew of John's', which is different from "a nephew of John's," which means 'any nephew of John's'. As former Oxford English Dictionary editor Robert Burchfield observes, "It is not easy to explain why such constructions are idiomatic: one can only assert that they are."
As noted, the double possessive goes back a long way: Chaucer has "A friend of his that called was Pandare" in the fourteenth century. The phenomenon started to get attention with the eighteenth-century grammarians, who generally disapproved of English constructions that were not possible according to the rules of Latin grammar. Some of these grammarians disapproved of the construction, while others were ambivalent.
Among contemporary language writers, most mention the construction but few criticize it; some restrict it to informal use, while others call it "needed."

The Observer:
An editor asked me which of these constructions is correct: a friend of John's or a friend of John. It is idiomatic in standard English to say or write a friend of John's. I explained that we use a possessive pronoun in this construction: He is a friend of mine. I am a friend of his. Therefore, when we use a person's name in this "of" construction, we make it possessive.

This construction is often called a double possessive, but it also is called a double genitive. "The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference" and "The Gregg Reference Manual" point out that the use of the double genitive can avert misunderstanding. A painting of Jennifer shows Jennifer, but a painting of Jennifer's belongs to Jennifer.

"Working With Words" cautions that the double possessive is used only to refer to people, not inanimate objects: Joan is a friend of Tina's, but not Joan is a fan of the show's. That should be Joan is a fan of the show.

Chicago Manual of Style:

Q. A friend of John or a friend of John’s? I’ve heard that both are correct. A friend tossed the famous ambiguity at me this way: “A student of Einstein.” Unless it’s Einstein’s, then it might be taken to mean a student who is working on Einstein.
A. It is best, and, what is more, perfectly idiomatic, to use the double genitive when “one of So-and-so’s” is what you have in mind:
a student of his (that is, one of his students)
a student of Einstein’s (that is, one of Einstein’s students)
Then you have the liberty of writing “a student of Einstein” to mean by contrast either someone who is working on the great theoretical physicist as a scholarly subject or, more broadly, someone who is a close observer of Einstein and his work.
Fowler’s notes in its third edition that such phrases as “a student of his” are illogical—one of the “freaks of idiom” (pp. 542–43). In any case, your friend’s “student of Einstein” example is an excellent refutation of those who would avoid the apostrophe s at all costs.
Mister MicawberI guess you don't get out much, Anon.
Pehaps you are right about that. I do not recall hearing this construction often, but you certainly have a lot of evidence.
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