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a. The mess your friends made in your room is yours to clean up.

(Meaning: You have to clean up the mess your friends made in your room.)


b. The dessert is yours to make.

(Meaning: You have to make the dessert.)

Are (a) and (b) grammatically correct with the meanings I have assigned to them?

I think they don't work in British English, but I am not sure whether they work in American English or not.

This construct can be used for rights and privileges, but I don't know whether it can be used for expressing duties.

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    These sentences are grammatical, and are fine in "British English". I think your question on privileges vs duties is a really interesting one! Oct 15 at 8:39
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    The problem is not with grammar but with idiom. I have never heard the expression used with reference to a duty. We would say "The mess... has been left for you to clean up." Oct 15 at 8:39
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    Even more informally (and usually used between close friends) would be 'all you'. "That's all you" [the task is yours to perform]. "I'll make X, the desert is all you" [you make/bring the desert] . But this construction might only be heard in the US (not sure I've ever seen it in BrEn) and may be highly regional.
    – eps
    Oct 15 at 17:50
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As answered by Astralbee and by JavaLatte, both statements are correct English. The second would be understood correctly even though the dessert does not yet exist; it is similar to the sentence "the decision is yours to make" which means you must make the decision.

The word "yours" may be taken as referring to the mess or cake, but it may also be taken as referring to the assigned task of cleaning or making.

I have heard statements like the second used in the course of organising a shared meal, where people are ensuring that they bring different items of food. I regard it as correct.

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  • Similar to "the decision is yours to make", there's "The election is the opposition's to lose" (or "...for the opposition to lose"), which is essentially the same construction. Oct 16 at 12:35
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From a BrEng perspective, they are both okay structurally, but only the first is idiomatic. I have heard this used many times, and the inference is that the task of cleaning the mess is the responsibility of the person who created it.

'Making a dessert' is not really the same kind of responsibility, nor does the dessert exist until it is made, unlike the mess which has first been made and the responsibility is now to clean it.

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What "yours" means is that something belongs to you. In a) this works: the mess belongs to you, so it's up to you to clean it up.

In b) it is semantically weak, because it's making the dessert that belongs to you, not the dessert itself. Sentence b) is understandable and might be acceptable in informal conversation, but it would be clearer to say

Making the dessert is your job/responsibility.

If it did already exist, you would be on much firmer ground saying

The dessert is yours to eat.

This means that the dessert itself belongs to you, so you can eat it.

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    B works depending on context. It's not about the desert, it's about the task of making the desert. "I'll make the entree, the desert is yours to make" would be perfectly well understood. Like the other answer states, it's not uncommon to hear during the planning of shared meals between friends or whatever. Even more informally you might say "... the desert is all you".
    – eps
    Oct 15 at 17:45
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    We talk about future things belonging to people all of the time. "Will you have a party in your house when you buy one? Will there be cake at your party? What decorations will you have on your cake?" (The house, the party, and the cake are all non-existent currently.) Oct 15 at 19:53
  • @user3067860 that is true, but in your examples. when and will move the existence into the future. This sentence uses is, which relates to existence now.
    – JavaLatte
    Oct 16 at 1:26
  • @JavaLatte Please don't tell my imaginary friend that! Oct 16 at 2:07
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Both example sentences in the question are perfectly acceptably, even natural, in US English. I do not agree that (b) is "weaker" or that the current non-existence of the cake makes a difference. The true referent here is the task or project of making the cake.

This form can be used for both duties

The problem is yours to fix.

and privileges

The money is yours to spend.

However I have heard it more often when imposing a duty than when recognizing a privilege.

This construction can be used with possessive pronouns other than "yours".

The choice is hers to make.

This carries the implication that it is hers and not yours, and can be used as a way of saying "don't interfere in someone else's choice."

The sofa is mine to given away or keep.

This is asserting a privilege, the right to make a decision.

The profits are mine to keep.

This is asserting ownership.

The situation is mine to deal with.

This is asserting a duty, perhaps a self-imposed one

The election is his to lose.

This carries a special implication. It means that the opponent cannot win if "he" does not make a mistake. Often the implication i9s that a mistake causing him to lose is seen as likely, or at least possible. A common varient is:

The game is theirs to lose.

about a sports event, implying that one team has an advantage and will win unless they make mistakes sufficient to give the game to the other side.

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