The passage from the book:

I suppose every family has a black sheep. Tom had been a sore trial to his for twenty years. He had begun life decently enough

I have problem at two places.

a sore trial? It should be sore trail in this context.
trial to his? or him?

Misprint? Mistake? or I'm missing it completely? :)

  • 3
    We answers questions here. We are answering yours today. Jul 11 '18 at 10:33
  • 1
    It’s correct, but it’s also an oddly-worded phrase. This ngram shows the phrase sore trial is a bit antiquated, but it likely would have sounded quite normal in the mid 1800’s. This list is also worth a scroll.
    – J.R.
    Jul 11 '18 at 11:40
  • @Tromano that example is completely different. Shoe me the usage of 'to' + 'his' without any noun or adjective.
    – Maulik V
    Jul 11 '18 at 16:54
  • Google wouldn't let me read the linked page, but the problem I have is that "to his" seems incorrect. It should be "to his (someone)" or "to him". BTW, you should include the publication nationality and date in your question, in case of dated usage.
    – user3169
    Jul 11 '18 at 19:19

I think that the whole phrase is correct according to the meanings stated in the MW and Cambridge Dictionaries

sore [adjective]

causing emotional pain or distress

trial [noun]

a person or thing that is annoying and causes a lot of problems

his [pronoun]

belonging to or connected with the person mentioned
Isn’t this Kevin’s umbrella? I think it’s his

In the following phrases, this is remarked:

Tom raced and gambled ...

Tom was the black sheep of his family causing them a lot of emotional pain during 20 years.


"A sore trial to his" is correct. It's short for:

Tom had been a sore trial to his family for twenty years.

The Cambridge Dictionary website says:

In short answers, we can omit the noun if it is not necessary to repeat it:

A: Is that your coat?

B: No, it’s Sandra’s.

This is that same construction, but instead of Tom's we are saying his.

  • Do you have some reference for this construction ("his"="his family")?
    – user3169
    Jul 11 '18 at 19:21
  • dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/determiners/… Go down to the 'Spoken English' section.
    – Omegastick
    Jul 12 '18 at 1:06
  • 1
    The reference is in the prior sentence, @user3169. The thing that's his isn't a "black sheep", since that represents Tom himself. The next (and only other) available reference in context is "family". Every family has such a person, and his has this painfully difficult Tom. Jul 12 '18 at 1:07
  • There is no "to his" on that page. Could you be more specific and edit into your answer. Since you wrote "to his" (by itself) is correct, there should be an explanation why.
    – user3169
    Jul 12 '18 at 1:37
  • 3
    Ah, I think I see your confusion now, @user3169. You're reading "his" as a purely attributive genitive, but here it's a substantive. This isn't the "his" that works like "my", "your", "her", "their" -- such that it wants something to modify. This is the "his" that works like "mine", "yours", "hers", "theirs" -- such that it stands alone. Check merriam-webster.com/dictionary/his and see where it says "used without a following noun", or reference the second "for students" definition. Jul 12 '18 at 4:34

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