P + "of"

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed May 31 18:01:07 UTC 2006

On May 30, 2006, at 9:01 PM, Larry Horn wrote, about the "double
possessive" or "double genitive":

> Bolinger's generalization comes into play here too.  "a book of
> Pete's" =/= "a book of Pete",

"a book of Pete"? possibly meaning 'a book about Pete", though it's
hard for me to get any interpretation at all.  "a story of Pete" 'a
story about Pete' seems better, i don't know why.  in any case, "a
book of Pete's" and "a story of Pete's" are different.

now, for "a picture of Pete/him" things are clear: this is a picture
depicting him, while "a book of Pete's/his" is one that he possesses
or that he wrote. (cue long long story of picture nouns.) discussion
of the picture cases goes back at least to Priestly 1798

> and of course "a book of me/you" is
> impossible alongside "a book of mine/yours".

similarly with "a friend of me/you" and "a favorite thing of me/you"
and many other types.  obligatory double possessive for pronominal
possessors, with certain (well, most) head nouns.  and then there's
this wonderful example Priestly cited from Tristram Shandy: "this
exactness of his".

the construction goes back at least to chaucer, but grammarians
didn't start to worry about it until the 18th century, on grounds of
"logic", of course.  nice brief discussion in MWDEU (under "double
genitive", which is what Priestly called it).

> I suspect arnold has
> thought long and hard (if not viagrously)

[allusion to Outil discussion of the adjective derived from
"Viagra".  hey, i don't need no steenkin' Viagra to think hard about
points of grammar.]

> about minimal pairs based
> on single vs. double possessives.

on and off, since grad school, inspired by Jespersen's MEG.  my
current favorite is the contrast between
   (1) friends of Larry Horn     /    (2) friends of Larry Horn's
with (2) conveying a sense of mutuality (hence, closeness) absent in
(1).  in consequence, the second variant is a bit odd for head nouns
normally denoting non-reciprocal relationships:
?fans/supporters of Larry Horn's.  and the second variant is really
bizarre for inanimate possessors: friends of the Sterling Memorial
Library, #friends of the Sterling Memorial Library's.


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