Example 1: My friend told me that ..........

"My friend" is a singular noun phrase, and its plural form is "My friends", right? If so, does this sentence "My friend told me that....." imply that "I have just one friend" unless it comes with any prior reference?

Example 2: I forgot my bag in my office.

In this example, "in my office" sounds just okay to me because many office workers, generally speaking, do their work in one dedicated or main office, but how about "my bag"? I feel that the sentence implies "I have just one bag, and forgot the bag in my office." unless the "my bag" is referred to in advance.

Example 3: I have a pain in my head (or my neck, my heart, my stomach etc.)

This looks OK to me because the human being have only one neck, heart, stomach etc. Likewise, "My head (my neck, my heart etc.) aches" is also okay to me. Compare with the next example.

Example 4: I have a pain in my eye (or my ear, my hand, my leg etc.)

This looks strange to me because in general healthy people are born with two eyes/ears/hands/legs. This sentence makes sense to me only for someone who lost one of his/her eyes (or his/her ears, his/her hands, his/her legs etc.), for example. Likewise, sentences like "My eye (or my ear, my hand etc.) aches" sounds illogical to me.

Considering cases like the above Examples 3 and Examples 4, I thought "My friend" in Example 1 and "my bag" in Example 2 suggest my only friend or my only bag.

What do you think?

POSTSCRIPT (Added on 25 July)
After my post above, I did further research on this question over the Internet. Let me add some of the information I found, for your reference.

in most dialects of English, "my" is a definite personal pronoun, so you should use "my friend" whenever you would use "the friend", and "a friend of mine" or "one of my friends" when you would say a friend. https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/34164/my-friend-vs-a-friend-of-mine

"I met my friend ..." means that you only have one friend, since we don't need any more information to identify this person. https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/my-friend-a-friend-of-mine-formality.2238527/

"[The] construction with the possessive pronoun [e.g. a friend of mine] differs from the alternative of possessive determiner + noun (e.g. my friend) mainly in that it is more indefinite. The sentences in (30) below illustrates this point.

(30) a. You know John? A friend of his told me that the food served at that restaurant is awful.

(30) b. You know John? His friend told me that the food served at that restaurant is awful.

The construction with the possessive pronoun, in (30a), can be used if the speaker hasn't specified and doesn't need to specify the identity of the friend. In contrast, the construction with the possessive determiner, in (30b), implies that the speaker and listener both know what friend is intended." https://www.thoughtco.com/possessive-pronoun-1691649

  • 2
    It does not mean that you have only one. My friend told me... just means that the person you are referring to has that relationship with you. My bag = a particular bag belonging to me that I need at this moment. Jul 23, 2020 at 10:14
  • Okay, so you mean "My friend" in this case just refer to the relationship between the person and I, and no number - either just one friend or more than one friend - is indicated?
    – Takashi
    Jul 23, 2020 at 10:44
  • 1
    No, I mean that referring to a person as my friend or an object as my bag says nothing about how many other friends or bags you may happen to have. Jul 23, 2020 at 12:39
  • My friend is not a word. It's two words … Jul 23, 2020 at 13:33
  • @Kate, Thanks. I thought that in that case "A friend of mine told me" and "I forgot a bag (of mine) in my office" were more appropriate. Maybe I am too much preoccupied with grammar.
    – Takashi
    Jul 23, 2020 at 21:44

2 Answers 2


A friend of mine


My friend

You are, I suspect, misunderstanding the distinction between "a/an" and "the." The indefinite article implies that a single unspecified member of a set is being referenced; the definite article plus a singular noun implies that a singular but previously specified member of the set is being referenced. Neither usage implies anything about the size of the set (except in mathematical terms it is not empty).

I have a broken finger

does not imply that I have only one finger. In all likelihood, I have ten. What it says is that one of my fingers is broken, but it is silent on which one.

My finger is broken

means the same thing. "My" here has a similar meaning to the indefinite article.

The forefinger on my left hand is broken.

I am now specifying which finger is broken so the definite article is appropriate.

Just as good is

My forefinger on my left hand is broken.

In short, possessive pronouns like "my" can replace definite or indefinite articles, and definite and indefinite articles relate to specificity of reference

  • Thanks, Jeff. Is it true that "My finger is broken" and "I have a broken finger" is just the same? How about this? "My mother had a traffic accident last month." Does the sentence leave open a possibility that "I have more than one mother"?
    – Takashi
    Jul 23, 2020 at 22:34
  • @Takashi Someone might have more than one person they refer to as their mother, but we can also use context clues that are more meaningful than possessives and articles to determine how likely that is.
    – Katy
    Jul 23, 2020 at 23:16
  • Yes, it is true. I try not to lie to people asking questions. Possessive pronouns imply NEITHER an indefinite nor definite article. Nor do articles all by themselves imply anything about the number of members in the set being referenced. Neither "A mother of mine" nor "The mother of mine" is ungrammatical. They are both just silly. The sensible way to distinguish between the mother who birthed and raised me and all other mothers is with "my mother." There is no question about the size of the set, nor is there any lack of specificity in which mother is being referred to. Jul 23, 2020 at 23:17
  • @Kate, after all, I now feel that meaning of "my + singular noun" is context-dependent. Possessive noun phrases like "my mother/father", "my house", "my car" etc. imply, not always but generally, my only something/someone while phrases like "my friend" and "my finger" are generally considered "one of my friends" and "one of my fingers".
    – Takashi
    Jul 24, 2020 at 0:55
  • @Jeff, I would apologize if my wording sounded rude to you; I didn't mean that you told a lie. Some of the English grammar books I have explain what I have already explained above. A book named Practical English Usage says " "My", "your" etc already have a "definite" meaning." Another English language book, I have, written by an educated American explains, " "In the Spring vacation, I went to Thailand with my friend" means that "I have just one friend, and I went to Thailand with that friend." After all, I now feel that meaning of "my + singular noun" is just context-dependent.
    – Takashi
    Jul 24, 2020 at 1:03

The sources you’re referring to are either misunderstood or flat-out wrong.

“My friend” simply means that the friend I’m talking about is (one of) mine, rather than someone else’s friend. It says nothing about how many friends I have.

If you need to clarify that you have exactly one friend, you would say “my only friend”.

There are certain things that people are presumed to have only one of, like hearts. If a person had a transplant, they might refer to their old/new heart, but without a qualifier, we presume they mean their current one.

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