I'm a friend of Stephen's.

It's British English, period: around 1970's.

Do we need that 's at the end of the name? I can see why it is there when you say, for instance, "I was at Stephen's." Here you omit something; you can put something after Stephens's and complete the sentence: "I was at Stephen's home."

But in the first sentence you cannot put anything after Stephen's.


It depends on how you are using 'friend'. If you are referring to a group of people that are collectively friends of Stephen, then you do need the possessive apostrophe. In that case the omitted something you refer to is shown by the translated 'I am one of Stephen's friends'.

If you are referring to your friendliness with a person called Stephen, then you don't.

For a similar (but more obvious) example, consider

I have a picture of Stephen


I have a picture of Stephen's

In the first you have a picture whose content is the image of Stephen. In the second you have a picture that belongs to Stephen.

  • If Stephen has three friends, and I am one of them, then do I need the possessive apostrophe? – J.R. May 2 '14 at 12:48
  • @J.R. Need is debatable, but I think it's common. For example "Any friend of Stephen's is a friend of mine!" That's a common phrase, and the 's is there. Without the apostrophe I'd prefer "I am a friend to Stephen" rather than "I am a friend of Stephen". (The to version sounds a bit strange/formal/something I can't place, but it seems more logical than "...of Stephen". Like you might say "He was a friend to many" rather than "he was a friend of many". Sounds a bit like a eulogy, but I still favor the "to" version without the apostrophe. /rambling – WendiKidd May 2 '14 at 15:33
  • @JR, Still depends. If you are talking about the group that is possessed (in the sense of the possessive apostrophe) by Stephen - which you are a member of - then yes. If you are talking about your friendship with Stephen and the fact that he has two other friends exists, but isn't relevant, then no. – mcalex May 3 '14 at 9:01
  • @WendiKidd example uses of 'friend of' include Amicus Curiae - friends of the court, and the much anecdoted a friend of a friend told me .... I don't think 'to' would work in those cases. – mcalex May 3 '14 at 13:08

On another forum we have looked more closely into the problem of "a friend of Stephan's" which seems to be a very old case form and in the meantime rather a ballast. Via Google Ngrams and the BNC we have found out that you can say a friend of Stephan's or a friend of Stephan.

So grammars that have a rule that in certain cases one has to use the of-genitive with 's are no longer up-to-date. Language is changing.

  • In some cases, you still have to use the of-genitive with 's. For example, you need to use the 's in a picture of Stephen's, unless you want to say that Stephen is depicted in the picture. The same is true for other ambiguous cases like "a vision of Johanna's", "a movie of Stephen's", "a dream of Martin's", "news of Amelia's", and so on. But you don't need to use it if there's not another interpretation of "of Stephen". – Peter Shor May 3 '14 at 17:39
  • Another case where you need the of-genetive with 's: "a gift of Stephen's" can't be replaced by "a gift of Stephen" (unless Stephen himself is the gift). – Peter Shor May 11 '14 at 3:08

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