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The bottle really does contain perfumed mud. How Harry came into the possession of this outlandish stuff makes an interesting story which he is fond of relating. Furthermore, the acquisition of this bottle cured him of a bad habit he had been developing for years. ( New Concept English, Book Three)

I understand that there is a difference in meaning between expressions in the possession of and in possession of. Does that difference also apply if the preposition is into. If that is the case, the sentence would mean "The outlandish stuff owns Harry" , wouldn't it?

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  • You may not fully understand there is a difference in meaning between expressions in the possession of and in possession of. In many contexts (including yours as cited here), it makes no difference at all whether the article is included or not. It's just that in some "ambiguous" contexts, such as He is a man in [the] possession of a demon, we're more likely to interpret the article-less version as referring to a man who possesses a demon, and the articled version as a man who is possessed by a demon. But I'm not convinced that distinction is "absolute" anyway. Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 13:01

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To a native British English listener, in both of the following two sentences, it would be clear that Harry is the "possessor":

  1. Harry came into the possession of some outlandish stuff.
  2. Some outlandish stuff came into the possession of Harry.

"Possession" implies ownership. In the examples, it is intuitive that a person would be the owner of the stuff, not the other way around. Normally, you would put the owner first, as in example 1.

The second example would sound more natural as, "Some outlandish stuff came into Harry's possession"). Such a construction could be used if there was any ambiguity as to the owner.

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    Thank you. Just to make sure: "Some outlandish stuff is in possession of Harry" would inevitably mean the stuff is the owner, even if it is logically impossible, right?
    – ForOU
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 4:57
  • @Robbyzhu - yes, that would be the meaning.
    – Leachoid
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 16:39

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