I’ve been asked more than once about my friend vs. a friend of mine. I took my first stab at explaining the difference in a 2009 post. This question has appeared on different blogs and discussion boards over the years. Most teachers agree on the implied meaning of one vs. many: “Bridget is my friend” sounds clear and doesn’t open the discussion to other friends I may have. In contrast, “Bridget is a friend of mine” suggests she’s one of any number of friends.
I appreciate the additional observation noted on Espresso English: “A friend of mine” can be more distant. Wouldn’t you agree? I do. For various reasons, a speaker may want to state a connection, but explain that it’s not the only connection one has. “A friend of mine” could convey, “This isn’t the only friend I have, and this isn’t my closest friend.” The indefinite article alone has a similar effect: Bridget is a friend. I’d argue that this variation also downplays the connection.
What should students know about “of mine” in general?
1. Merriam-Webster identifies it as an idiomatic phrase expressing possession.
2. It’s similar in meaning to “my,” but the possessive adjective comes before the head noun; the prepositional phrase follows.
3. “Of mine” can suggest that there are others in that same category, e.g., other friends.
4. “Of mine” can be intentionally or unintentionally vague. Looking at corpus examples, we find situations where the speaker has chosen not to name the person for some reason. Just The Word lists an example about “a close friend of mine” who’s been working on a manuscript. Obviously, a close friend’s name is known to the speaker, but perhaps in the given conversation the name isn’t important to the listener. The name may also have been forgotten by the speaker when talking about “an old classmate of mine.”
5. The idiom is very often combined with “friend,” but other head nouns are common:
– It’s been a dream of mine to travel the world./ Traveling the world has always been a dream of mine.
– It’s an old habit of mine.
– A colleague of mine gave me some good advice.
– No child of mine/ no son of mine/ no daughter of mine is going out dressed like that! (Always in the negative.)
6. Other possessive pronouns can be used similar ways:
– Answering a question with a question is an annoying habit of his.
– You know, that’s a nasty habit of yours.
– Yeah. That’s a frequent habit of hers. You’ll get used to it.
7. As seen in some of the previous examples, we can modify the head noun to make it specific: a nasty habit of yours, an old habit of mine, a good friend of mine, etc. Interestingly, I don’t think these examples necessarily imply that there are many others in the same category. It’s just my hunch that these more detailed structures are more concerned about attaching ownership. Feel free to agree or disagree.
What activities would you use to activate this grammar? Got any ideas? Perhaps we could explore some in a future post.
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