5

I want to know which of the forms mentioned below are most used in conversation.

A friend told me …

My friend told me …

One of my friends told me …

Here are what I think are the disadvantages and advantages of using each of them.

  • “A Friend told me” — In this sentence, it sounds to me the friend can be mine or the friend can be a friend of my friend. So it seems to me it does not make clear that the friend is my directly known person.

  • “My friend told me” — This seems perfectly natural to me. It clearly says that the friend is mine and that I know him very well.

  • “One of my friends told me” — This one seems too wordy to use for a normal information and that is why I think it must be less used in day-to-day life.

Are these observations of mine correct?

5

I think you're largely on the right track.

However, I would assume that “A friend…” was indeed a friend of yours – not a friend of a friend. However, the use of a (instead of the more familiar and intimate my) might suggest the person is more of an acquaintance than a close friend, but that's not necessarily a given.

I don't think “One of my friends…” is too wordy. It might be especially useful if you remember hearing something from someone, but you can't quite remember which friend gave you the information.

Also, instead of “told me”, I might be more inclined to simply use “said”.

Lastly, I think there's one viable option you've left of your list:

A friend of mine said...

  • Is there any difference between "told me" and "said"? – Mistu4u Sep 21 '13 at 14:04
  • In this context, there's not really much difference in meaning – I just think "said" flows better. – J.R. Sep 21 '13 at 14:06
2

The choice is really a personal one, with very subtle connotations to each:

  1. "A friend" is vague, not personal, perhaps because you're not that close to the person with whom you're speaking. On the other hand, the phrasing sounds incomplete, suggesting it is not the best choice for a formal situation.

  2. "My friend" sounds warmer: it begs the question "Which friend?". In fact, you would usually hear this with some identifying information about the friend: "My friend Julie", "My French friend", "My friend at school", etc. It is most likely to be used in a less formal situation. Of course, on its own, "my friend" can suggest that you only have one friend.

  3. "One of my friends". This is also a bit vague. "A friend of mine" is a commonly used version of this phrasing, and is perhaps the best alternative to number 1: the phrasing is complete, while maintaining formal distance (privacy). I also prefer it to "One of my friends", which sounds like you are forcing the issue that you have more than one friend.

Of course, people don't tend to think this through so much before they speak - they just go with what feels right at the time!

1

No, you don't have it right, but this is a great question. Your mistake is that you're trying to explain these differences in isolation, but some language rules often apply only across multiple sentences.

As the first sentences introducing your friend into the conversation, your examples are almost identical. But the next time you refer to the person, you have to say "my friend" or else people will think you're speaking of a different person entirely.

"A friend told me . . . . My friend also said . . ." (One person)

"A friend told me . . . . One of my friends also said . . ." (Two people)

But this is a subtle difference even for the first sentence. When you lead with "my friend," it sounds a bit like you're saying that you only have one friend, doesn't it? No one really means that, of course, but what this does is signal the listeners that for the purpose of this conversation you only have one friend that you're going to be talking about. I would expect that you plan to say a lot about this person in the following sentences.

The study of language rules about setting/changing context is called pragmatics. Speakers routinely make repeated pragmatic shifts during a single conversation.

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