I abbreviated Peter as P in the title for brevity; feel free to abbreviate thus. Please explain user Ed Staub's answer below, since it only seems to present this stance? To me, both 1 and 2 mean that Joe and Peter are friends with each other. Yet what possible reasons exist to explain the differentiation below?

To me, "Friend of Peter" and "Friend of Peter's" mean the inverse of each other.

In "Joe is a friend of Peter", Joe is the active person in the friendship - it describes Joe's active relationship to Peter. Peter is one of the people Joe expresses friendship toward.

In "Joe is a friend of Peter's", Peter is the active person in the friendship - it describes Joe as being the object of Peter's friendship. Joe is one of the people Peter expresses friendship toward.

  • @TrevorClarke: That's the consensus, but not Ed Straub's answer, so I'm asking how he can differentiate as he does.
    – user8712
    Jan 29, 2015 at 20:51
  • Sorry I was checking something I added more Jan 29, 2015 at 20:54
  • Joe is a subordinate of Peter's. Joe is a subordinate of Peter. Joe is one of Peter's subordinates.
    – TimR
    Jan 29, 2015 at 20:59

4 Answers 4


When we say that Joe is a friend of Peter we are making a statement that Joe and Peter are friends.

When we say that Joe is a friend of Peter's we are identifying Joe, who is unknown to the listener, as a friend of someone whom the listener does know, namely Peter. It has nothing to do with a putative "active person in the friendship".

A friend of mine, Mary, arrives for an impromptu visit. She is introduced to a stranger, Henry. After Henry leaves the room, Mary asks, "Now, who is Henry?" I reply, "Henry is a friend of Jane's". Mary knows who Jane is.

  • 1
    Worth noting that sometimes the construction "friend of X", and in particular "friends (plural) of X" is sometimes used figuratively to mean "supporter", as in "This garden maintained by Friends of the Park" or "Thus advertisement paid for by Friends of Romney", etc.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 30, 2015 at 23:13

I posted the answer extracted above because that's my commonest experience, personally, of how the two phrases are used and because I can see how the "friend of P's" form might have evolved out of a need to disambiguate. I claim no authority. There's a lot more discussion in the comments. Note that on that post, this answer barely had a plurality of votes, let alone a majority. Obviously, opinions differ!

I agree that the "friend of P" form is more ambiguous, as to direction. But I rarely see it used to express oneway friendship from P.

Another example that comes to mind as we approach quadrennial silly season here in New Hampshire, are the political committee names "Friends of P" - you never see "Friends of P's".

I agree largely with @TRomano as to the most-common usage of the "friend of P's" form.

As an aside, one can start a whole new discussion about "in", in "You've got a friend in me". English is an eternal source of puzzlement, for learners and native-speakers alike.


If you want to say that Joe will behave in a friendly fashion to Peter, but not necessarily vice versa, you might have better luck saying, "Joe is a friend to Peter." That discusses Joe's relationship to Peter, but leaves Peter's relationship with Joe as ambiguous. (Without evidence to the contrary, most people will assume Peter is at least mildly friendly to Joe, because "friend" is a word that implies reciprocation.)

I suppose the "friend of Peter" has a kind of parallel with "friend to Peter," but it's not a construction that I see, and I would generally not make the distinction that Ed Staub does -- even though I can see what he means if I squint.


They both mean the same thing.

You would say

Who is that guy? - He is a friend of Peters.

but you could also say:

Who is he? - That is a friend of peter

Although if you want to know when to use which this site has a good article explaining it in more detail:


  • The link you included does have some interesting things to say about the double possessive, and I think if you brought some of that discussion about whether the relationship is exclusive or not into your answer it would be really great and potentially help explain why Ed Staub's answer is a valid way of looking at things.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 29, 2015 at 21:36
  • Its valid because 's is possesive and because you are saying its "his friend" it should also be possesive. Jan 29, 2015 at 21:37

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