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Double Genitive (a friend of John’s) | (A-Level, Basic)

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Prerequisites: For this lesson, you should know subjective personal pronouns, objective personal pronouns, possessive determiners, and possessive pronouns. (Links open in a new tab.)

The Double Genitive

In English, there are several ways to express possession or association.

Using an apostrophe and “s” indicates that someone owns or has something. It also shows an association between people or things.


  • The dog’s tail is black. (The tail is associated with the dog. It is part of the dog.)
  • John’s book is on the table. (John owns the book. It’s his book.)
  • Mary’s sister is visiting. (Mary and her sister are related.)

The preposition “of" is also used, particularly for relationships or associations.

  • The tail of the dog is black.
  • The leg of the table is broken.
  • The roof of the house is red.

The double possessive combines both

  1. ”of" and a noun with an apostrophe and “s” (a friend of John’s) or
  2. ”of” and a possessive pronoun (a friend of his).

Examples comparing possessives

1. Compare:
  1. Mark is Mary’s friend. (using ’s)
  2. Mark is a friend of Mary’s. (double possessive)
  3. Mark is a friend of hers. (double possessive)

In Sentence 1, the focus is on one friend (Mark). The double genitive in Sentences 2 and 3 express the idea that Mary may have many friends, and Mark is one of them.

2. Compare:
  1. My student is learning English very fast. (possessive determiner)
  2. A student of mine is learning English very fast. (double possessive)

In Sentence 1, you are talking about a student. Using the double genitive in Sentence 2, you express the idea that, among all your students, one of them is learning fast.

3. Compare:
  1. Jane’s idea is to start working on the project next week. (possessive determiner)
  2. An idea of Jane’s is to start working on the project next week. (double possessive)

In Sentence 1, the focus is the one idea that Jane has. The double genitive in Sentence 2 expresses that one of Jane’s ideas is to start next week, so she may have other ideas.


In one situation, the double genitive and possession with the preposition “of” can make a big difference in meaning.

“A photo of John’s” means the photo belongs to John.

”A photo of John” means it is a photo of his face. The photo may belong to him or someone else.

Very often, there is only a small difference between the double genitive and other possessive constructions. If you use one or the other, people will understand it just fine, especially because the situation or context clarifies the meaning.

Be careful not to express the wrong idea. The following sentences express the sense that the speaker is annoyed or irritated by someone’s wife or ideas:

That wife of his is here again.

What do you think about those ideas of his?

I don’t like this plan of yours.


Practice 1. Fill in the blanks using double genitives.

Related Lesson

Possessive determiners: my, your, his, her, its, our, their.

Possessive pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs.

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