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Look at the examples below:

A friend of him had given him the bad news.

A friend of his has given him the bad news.

I think the first one is incorrect but I am not sure why. Can someone explain with syntax and grammar? Additionally, we use 'My friend' Or 'Friend of mine' ( where 'mine' is the possessive pronoun of 'I'). Is there any such form possible for "HE"?

  • I actually just posted this comment on a different ELL question, but it seems to be even more relevant here... In the construction an X of Y, if Y is a pronoun we almost always use the possessive form (customer of ours, friend of mine). But that's not always the case with other nouns, as explored by my question about the usage on ELU, where it's pointed out that plenty of people who would never say He's a friend of me are perfectly happy with He's a friend of the King. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 24 '18 at 15:27
  • Please clarify one more thing. What will happen to 'She'? Does it have any objective form? (like He->his). I thought 'her' is the objective case of she, but I recently found that 'her' is possessive adj and 'hers' is a possessive pronoun. – Ritwik Bhattacharyya Sep 24 '18 at 17:12
  • Note that although friend of hers is the dominant form, it's not all that uncommon to encounter friend of her. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 24 '18 at 17:30
  • "Her" is also the objective case of "she". – Tanner Swett Sep 24 '18 at 18:40
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To discover the possessive form, first put the pronoun ahead of the noun.

His friend becomes a friend of his

The same applies to other pronouns except her friend becomes a friend of hers while our friend becomes a friend of ours and my friend becomes a friend of mine (as you note).

If a friend of mine relates to I - a friend of his relates to he.

The same rules would apply whether it was a friend, a car or any other object.

We don't use the constructions of him or or her in this sense although we do speak of a photo of him/her. This is because the photo or picture contains the image of the person rather than necessarily belonging to the person.

Thus, when we speak of John's picture, if the picture belonged to John we would say his picture; if the picture showed John we would say a picture of him/John.

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  • And remember that "Him be me friend, mon [man]" could be Jamaican.[just adding a bit of levity] – Lambie Sep 24 '18 at 14:12
  • It seems like your guidance has a lot of exceptions. No wonder this is so tricky for a learner! – J.R. Sep 24 '18 at 14:26
  • @J.R. I was just joking to show how complicated dialects can be. Not sure how good my Jamaican is. :) – Lambie Sep 24 '18 at 15:43
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The correct form would be

a friend of his (which is a possessive pronoun)

A simple explanation would be that this phrase is just another way of saying:

his friend (possesive adjective)

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  • Hello, You mean that depending upon the use, possessive pronoun and possessive adjective of 'He' is determined. But for other Pronouns these two forms are different, like They- Their(possessive adj)-Theirs ( possessive pronoun). Am I right? – Ritwik Bhattacharyya Sep 24 '18 at 16:43
  • @RitwikBhattacharyya yes, that's right and in that case the example would turn into: a friend of theirs and their friend – KeykoYume Sep 24 '18 at 16:54
  • Please clarify one more thing. What will happen to 'She'? Does it have any objective form? (like He- his). I thought 'her' is an objective case of she, but I have found that 'her' is possessive adj and 'hers' is a possessive pronoun. – Ritwik Bhattacharyya Sep 24 '18 at 17:01
  • yes, she has an objective form which is hers - a friend of hers. This one is a possessive pronoun as well. The objective case only affects personal pronouns. You can also have as well her friend - not obj form – KeykoYume Sep 24 '18 at 17:06
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Both sentences are grammatical—although the first is far more common. It depends on what you are trying to express.

I am a friend of his.

This means that I am his friend. We hang out together, talk, and are sociable. This is almost always what people mean.

Grammatically, the possessive pronoun his is used because you are saying you are the object of his friendship.


I am a friend of him.

This is a much less common phrase, and can also be expressed as I am a friend to him.

It may not mean that you have ever spoken to him. (Although often you will have.) You feel goodwill toward him and most likely have done things that have helped him. It is more figurative than literal.

Variations of this non-possessive sense would be:

I am a friend of nature. [But nature is, obviously, unaware of this.]
I am a believer in him. [Him the object, without any possession.]

So, let's take your first example sentence:

A friend of him had given him the bad news.

Perhaps it was somebody he had never met, but who was looking out for his best interests. This person gave him notification of something that he needed to be aware of. It could have been by sending an anonymous message, for instance.

This friend is not his friend, but just a friend of him.


It would be more idiomatic, however, to hear the expression:

I've been a friend of his for years—he just hasn't known it.


So, although the use of him in your first sentence is not actually wrong, it's uncommon and likely sounds strange because it's not something you'll have heard. (And it also means something different than what people would normally be trying to express with it.)

In almost every situation, you should be using his.

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