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Anita is Neil's wife. Neil is one of my friends. Now, how do I refer to Anita? Think that I'm telling someone who does not know the couple.

One of my friend's wife

OR

One of my friends' wife

I know the structure one of [something] takes a plural but then, here it is about possession of a singular which should be made plural--> "....friends' wife?" .


This is interesting. Suppose Neil has many wives. How do I again refer to Anita?

One of my friend's wives?

OR

One of my friends' wives?

27

The unambiguous way to say this in English is, "the wife of one of my friends".

If you are talking about one friend with multiple wives, you could say "one of my friend's wives".

If you have many friends, each of whom has one wife, you could say "one of my friends' wives". There are many wives, one for each friend, so you must use the plural "wives". Yes, the sentence is then ambiguous, whether each friend has one wife or many.

I understand wanting to say "one of my friends' wife", meaning -- "(one of my friends') wife", that is, you have many friends, each has one wife, and you are talking about the one wife of one friend. But that's just not how we say it in English. It's perfectly logical, but not what we say.

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    "one of my friend's wives" - that's not correct. Mix of singular/plural with 'one' and "friend's" doesn't work. You're saying "the wives of one of my friend", it just doesn't make sense. – OJFord Apr 23 '15 at 11:15
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    +1, expect that I'm pretty sure I've heard native speakers use expressions like "one of my friends' wife" in casual speech, and it doesn't sound wrong to my ear -- a bit prone to being misheard and/or misparsed, maybe, but usually there's enough context to make the intended meaning clear, anyway. – Ilmari Karonen Apr 23 '15 at 11:21
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    @OllieFord "One of" is modifying "wives", not "friend's". If I say "the big blue truck", "big" and "blue" are both modifying "truck". Suppose instead of "my friend" I named the specific friend. Like, "one of Solomon's 600 wives". In this case "one of" is clearly modifying "wives", not that there are multiple Solomons and I mean that I am referring to one of these. – Jay Apr 23 '15 at 13:18
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    "one of my friends' wife" sounds completely ridiculous, regardless of people saying how right it is – Kik Apr 23 '15 at 19:13
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    @OllieFord "one of my friend's wives" - that's not correct. [...] You're saying "the wives of one of my friend", it just doesn't make sense. No, you're saying one of the wives of my friend. It's one of [my friend's wives], not [one of my friend]'s wives. – starsplusplus Apr 24 '15 at 12:57
7

While the other answers address the use "one of" well, I think it would be better to just drop that part altogether.

My friend's wife.

This sounds much less awkward to me and seems pretty clear, with or without including a name. It's understood that you are referring to "one of" your friends, because the only other way it could be interpreted is "my friends' wife", and most people would not assume that your friends share a wife, especially in context of the conversation.

This still works if your friend has many wives. It does not emphasize this fact, which may or may not be a benefit. If that needs to be more clear, "one of my friend's wives" would work.

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    I completely agree with you. However, I am not sure it answers the actual question because I am not sure which question is the actual question... – Warlord 099 Apr 23 '15 at 14:33
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    There are a dozen other ways to refer to that woman. My question is related to English language. – Maulik V Apr 24 '15 at 4:39
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    I would point out that this also works without her name, i.e. just "my friend's wife", and sounds significantly less awkward (to me) than any phrase involving "one of". – David Z Apr 24 '15 at 11:26
2

You are asking many questions so I am going to put your statements followed by how I would interpret them.

One of my friend's wife

-- Doesn't make sense to me as nothing is plural. (Anita has many clones, but since they are all genetically the same Neil still has only one wife?)

One of my friends' wife

--The wife of one of my friends

One of my friend's wives

-- One of the many wives of one of my friends

One of my friends' wives

-- The collective set of women who are wives to one of my friends

To refer to Anita as one of Neil's wives I would say:

One of One of my friends' wives

Now in answer to how I would refer to Anita in your initial scenario I would simply say "my friend's wife" as I don't particularly see the need to point out that you have more than one friend.

  • Many? Only two, that too they are close as two coats of paint! 1) What if a guy has only one wife and I'm referring to her and 2) What if he has many and I'm referring to one of them. – Maulik V Apr 24 '15 at 4:42
  • @MaulikV The first question I see is "Now, how do I refer to Anita?".... So my question is which answer do you really want: 1) The best/easiest way to refer to Anita? or 2) Which of the two options is grammatically correct? The latter of which happens to be separated into two separate, albeit related questions. – Warlord 099 Apr 24 '15 at 13:21
1

You have multiple friends. Neil is "one of my friends". His one wife is therefore "One of my friends' wife". Likewise, Neil's wives are "One of my friends' wives". You also have the option of rephrasing the above, to 'the wife/wives of one of my friends' or other possible equivalents. (Intriguingly, you can introduce one of the multiple wives as "One of one of my friends' wives"!)

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    -1, "One of my friends' wife" is not grammatical. "One of" indicates we are talking about one element of a collection. The collection is "my friends' wives". There are multiple wives, and we are referring to one of them. – DCShannon Apr 24 '15 at 3:40
  • I disagree. There are two possible analyses, both of which are grammatical. 1) (mine) I have multiple friends > he is [one of my friends] > she is his wife > she is the wife of [one of my friends] > she is [one of my friends]'s wife. QED. 2) (yours, as I understand it) I have multiple friends > they have (for simplicity) one wife each > there exists a group I call [my friends' wives] > she is one of them > she is [one of my friends' wives]. QED as well. – Sydney Apr 25 '15 at 3:25
  • "she is the wife of [one of my friends]" is fine. It's not equivalent to "she is [one of my friend]'s wife" because that's not how the words get grouped together. We don't have parentheses or brackets in English to override the "order of operations". It's not math. – DCShannon Apr 27 '15 at 17:40
  • "She's not my boss's wife - she's one of my friend's wife." Not a parenthesis or bracket in sight. – Sydney Apr 28 '15 at 4:10
  • No, no parentheses. That's my point. The sentence is wrong because of the way the words group together. You want "She's not my boss's wife, she's one of my friends' wives." – DCShannon Apr 28 '15 at 20:00
0

"One of my friends' wives" is correct.

If we take the incorrect "One of my friend's wives" the possessive marker is on the noun phrase [One of my friend] which is nonsensical, as we can't take "one of" a singular. Thus the initial noun phrase must be "One of my friends". Therefore the possessive is [One of my friends]'s. Since we use ' instead of 's at the end of plurals ending in s, we just write "One of my friends' wives".

The confusion is that both of them when spoken have the same form, i.e. we don't say "friendses", both "friends'" and "friend's" sound the same. English speakers generally tend to prefer this ambiguous form instead of the clearer form mentioned in the top answer, so it's good to know how to write it.

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    If I saw "One of my friend's wives" I would take it to mean "One of [my friend's wives]" which does make sense... – Warlord 099 Apr 23 '15 at 14:08
  • For sure, in a culture-independent sense that's perfectly grammatical, which I didn't consider. There's nothing inherently wrong with the structure, it just reflects an uncommon reality in the English-speaking world. – hanasu Apr 23 '15 at 16:20
  • This is misleading, as it makes it sound like we have "[one of my friends'] wives", rather than "one of [my friends' wives]" – DCShannon Apr 24 '15 at 3:47
  • Doesn't Gollum say 'friendses'? – user6951 Apr 24 '15 at 23:15
0

It's actually pretty easy to get there if you break it down (as you have):

Neil is one of my friends. Anita is Neil's wife.

Substitute the first sentence there for 'Neil', to get the answer:

Anita is one of my friends' wife.


If Anita isn't enough for Neil:

Neil is one of my friends. Anita is one of Neil's wives.

Therefore:

Anita is one of my friends' wives.

Though this actually sounds like a colloquial mistake - many native speakers would mistakenly say this in reference to a monogamous relationship; so you might be better off with:

Anita is one of my friend Neil's wives.

Note that this actually provides the person you're speaking to with more information - you tell them the name of your friend, and the name of the friend's wife.

No prior knowledge of either name is needed for this to make sense, although it would also make sense if they did know you had a friend name Neil.

  • I clearly said, I don't want 'names' there. Explaining someone who does not know the couple. Use pronouns and rewrite the answer please. – Maulik V Apr 23 '15 at 11:44
  • @MaulikV I only used the names in explaining the answer. The actual answer (first and last quotes) only uses the names to tell the person you're talking to their names. – OJFord Apr 23 '15 at 11:46
  • I've edited it to hopefully make it clearer. – OJFord Apr 23 '15 at 15:58
  • -1, You can't just substitute like that. To make a math analogy, that substitution would require parentheses around the "one of my friends'". Once you write it out, "one of" refers to the whole phrase "my friends' wife" which is not plural, and therefore doesn't make sense. – DCShannon Apr 24 '15 at 3:44
  • @DCShannon It's not a perfect substitution, if you notice apostrophe position is different in my post. Poor choice of word maybe. Was just trying to make the choice of wife/wives more obvious. – OJFord Apr 24 '15 at 7:31

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