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In a Japanese Language question, I was informed that English construction such as

  • That son of yours
  • These cats of hers

would have an extra offensive connotation outside of a neutral combination of determinatives.

Is that generally true, or when (collocation or situation) can it be? And if possible, how come?

Edit: In a comment I got an observation about my examples:

since the "standard" versions are your son / her cats, native speakers automatically assume the "marked" forms convey some specific sense or nuance

It actually adds to this question:

  • Doesn't English have an neutral way to add both information carried by "this/that" and "my/your/their" to a noun?
  • Isn't such a manner of specification meaningful in English?
  • I'd never thought about this before, but I'd guess it's not so much the use of son of yours/cats of hers rather than your son/her cats that's potentially adding the "offensive" implications. Most likely that's really just an irrelevant consequence of introducing the contextually "unusual, unnecessary" determiner (that, these, this, those). Same as Some guy just did something, as covered by One way in which some differs in usage is that some guy can (but does not have to) be used in a flippant or disparaging way. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 24 at 15:54
  • ...to answer your question, I can't think of any context where that son of yours wouldn't be "offensive" (or feasibly just "facetious" in inherently friendly contexts). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 24 at 15:57
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica So, do you mean you can use it without offensiveness when it is "necessary" e.g. when there are multiple possible referents that you can expect to differentiate with "that"? – broccoli forest Apr 24 at 16:12
  • It's difficult to think of a straightforward example, but I'm sure there will be contexts where that son of yours wasn't a "marked" alternative to he expected your son. For all practical purposes though, you should assume it's offensive by default, so don't use it unless you intend that to be understood. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 24 at 16:53
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    All you really need to recognise is that since the "standard" versions are your son / her cats, native speakers automatically assume the "marked" forms convey some specific sense or nuance. And "disparagement" is an exceptionally common connotation for such "non-standard" usages, so you may as well assume that's the implication if you don't specifically know different. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 24 at 17:02
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There is a negative or pejorative aspect to the construction, 'That son of yours,' or 'those cats of yours.' It may - in fact probably would - be considered offensive, but it's possible that that is your intent. You could be intending disparagement as one comment notes. Another intention may be empathy. Without context we can't know.

You are pointing out something (a son or cat/s) to someone who is specifically the owner of or is considered responsible for that thing. The reason for doing so using this construction is not to distinguish them from among other things, as in:

  • That son of yours: the one with long hair, not the son with short hair.
  • Those young cats of yours, not the elderly cats on the couch.

Your are probably either:

  • Identifying them to the parent/owner pointedly (an adverb meaning 'in a direct and unambiguous way, often indicating criticism or displeasure')
    • Because they are offense to you
      • For example, you don't like long hair on boys, or the cats kill song birds

or;

  • Identifying them regretfully
    • Because you know the son or the cats have given trouble or pain to them
      • For example, the son is disrespectful, or the cats ruin the furniture

This situation is most likely to occur in direct communication between people, where the verbal clues like word emphasis or visual clues like facial expression will help convey the unspoken negative emotion. It might also occur in written dialogue between characters, in which case the context will be known.

It's definitely important to be aware of the possibility of offending someone unintentionally. But it's also good to know the construction can be used as an indirect way to convey displeasure or sympathy. You can use it to alert someone to something that is bothering you, which may prompt them to enquire further, or to offer emotional support to them.

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“That son of yours got into a fantastic college.”

Is a positive statement. It emphasizes the responsibility aspect of ownership or possessiveness. A parent would be proud of a student in this case.

“That cat of yours was digging in the garbage again.”

If your neighbor said this, they would be emphasizing your responsibility for the cat. She would probably be less frustrated if she had said “Your cat was digging in the garbage again.” Because you own the cat, you are responsible for its actions.

For your followup question, there is a neutral way to do this, but I don’t think it is accepted across all varieties of English.

“Your daughter over there is a great athlete.”

“His cat, here, is causing a lot of trouble.”

Even less accepted across different Englishes:

“Them’s my apples and I am taking them down to the market.”

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