The possessive form is used in a prepositional phrase beginning with 'of':

'Maggie, a colleague of Mary's, came to the opening of the exhibition. Rufus came too.' 'Who's Rufus?' 'He's a friend of my husband's.'

What do Mary's and husband's mean in these sentences? At first I thought "He's a friend of my husband's" could mean "He is a friend of friend of my husband" but I am not sure.

  • 1
    Although it's not the best term, this is often called a "double genitive", and you can find more information on this site and English.SE if you search for that term in quotes.
    – user230
    Nov 22 '14 at 16:23
  • "a friend of my husband's" is the same as "a friend of my husband". The genitive with of and 's is an old system and you find it relatively often, though it is not necessary to use this old "double genitive".
    – rogermue
    Nov 22 '14 at 17:03
  • If he was a friend of your husband's friend, that's how you'd have to say it: "Rufus is a friend of my husband's friend" (or, Rufus is a friend of a friend of my husband). It's a mouthful, but friend of a friend is not unusual in English.
    – J.R.
    Nov 22 '14 at 17:57
  • By the way, the genitive clitic written 's is not called "the apostrophe". That refers to the symbol '. "Use of the apostrophe with of" isn't really understandable.
    – user230
    Nov 22 '14 at 22:22

Mary's and husband's are possessive nouns, which have been formed by adding an apostrophe and an "s" to the proper noun "Mary" and the singular countable noun "husband".

Mary's means Mary's colleagues and husband's means husband's friends in the statement presented above. When we say a colleague of Mary's, it means that Mary has more than one colleague and we are referring to one of them. In the same way when we say a friend of my husband's, it means that we are talking about one of his friends.

I think the confusion arises because of the use "of". In fact, it's also grammatically correct if a woman says "a friend of my husband", but it usually gives the sense that her husband has only one friend.

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