How can we say complex possessive patterns?

Are these sentences grammatical?

"the name of my brother's friend's father is John' or

'My brother's friend's father's name is John'

There are some of them in my language. We have some problems when we want to translate them into English


1 Answer 1


They are grammatical, but they are not elegant. Stringing three possessives together as you do in your second example is particularly awkward.

I might say John is the father of my brother's friend. After all, "John" does not need to be identified as a name.

If, however, it is important to focus on the fact that "John" is merely a name, you could say The father of my brother's friend is named "John," not "Bill."

  • +1 for the advice to rephrase. In conversation you would likely break it up and listen for cues from the other person "You know my brother's friend, Bill" "Yes, what about him?" "Well, his father is called John" and so on.
    – James K
    Feb 16, 2018 at 23:35
  • @JamesK Exactly, this is why translation is so difficult. A translator must not only understand what is both explicit and implicit in language A, but know how to imply the same thing in language B without changing the explicit meaning. Long, long ago, when I was trying to learn both Latin and three modern foreign languages, the drill in Latin was to translate Latin texts into English every day, year after year. I never did learn how to write elegant Latin, but I did learn that you cannot translate word for word. I could render Caeser into English without ever being able to beat him in Latin. Feb 17, 2018 at 4:09

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