For this sentence:

He broke a cup of his own.

Does it mean

  1. that he broke a cup of unknown ownership after someone else had broken a cup, also of unknown ownership, or
  2. that, after breaking a someone else's cup, he then broke a cup that belonged to himself?
  • For me, it's his cup. – Damkerng T. Jun 16 '14 at 10:32
  • @DamkerngT. How about "He ate a cupcake of his own"? – meatie Jun 16 '14 at 11:31
  • It's still about his cupcake. X of someone's own means X belongs to that someone. – Damkerng T. Jun 16 '14 at 11:35
  • @DamkerngT. How about "He took a gamble of his own"? – meatie Jun 16 '14 at 12:02
  • Literally, he took a gamble, and that gamble was his. – Damkerng T. Jun 16 '14 at 12:14


For the former case, I could say: they were arguing in the resteraunt. The first man grew so angry that he broke a cup and the other, in retaliation, broke a cup of his own.

For the latter: When he grew angry, he broke a cup of his own [because that was what he had on hand].

I prefer the former usage only because it would usually be "his own cup" rather than "a cup of his own", but perhaps this is just due to my inability to come up with a good example. Both ate reasonable interpretations.

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  • Agreed, context makes all the difference. For the second definition, you might also say his own cup to emphasize the fact that he broke one owned by him after first breaking several owned by someone else. – Esoteric Screen Name Jun 16 '14 at 16:09
  • +1 context context context, often sorts out uses that can be amibiguous – user6951 Jun 17 '14 at 2:26
  • So, for "break a cup of his own", "eat a cupcake of his own" and "take a chance of his own", the part "of his own" modifies the entire verb + noun, not just the noun? – meatie Jun 17 '14 at 3:54
  • @meatie Interesting point. Yes I think it does. – user3709296 Jun 17 '14 at 4:01
  • @user3709296 So then, "he fell to the ground *of his own" is good English and means that he fell to the ground after someone else had fell to the ground? – meatie Jun 18 '14 at 3:24

The possession relates to the action not the material cup. In this instance 'Breaking a cup' is a metaphor for the associated occasion that meritted the ritual cup smashing, be it mariage, an oath or promise.

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