of his vs. of him

Discussion in 'English Only' started by tomtombp, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    In another thread my "every book of him" was corrected to "every book of his". Since it was made by natives, I accepted the correction, although I have always used "of him". However, the "of him" version still sounds better to me. I usually speak English based on my feelings of "what sounds better" (meaning I must have heard it many times), rather then stop to think about grammar in the middle of a sentence. This might not be the best way, but this makes me sound relatively fluent. Judging "of him" to be correct means I must have heard it many times. That pattern sounds too familiar to me not to be correct. Maybe it is used in a different structure. To find out how it is used, I started making a little Google research.
    My results:
    1)I have found many hits for "book of him". Does that mean they are all incorrect?
    2)There are way too many hits for "The other side of him" to be correct. If this is the same possessive form as "a book of him" why one is correct while the other is incorrect? Or are both incorrect?

    Thanks
     
  2. abda2405 Senior Member

    Russian
    There are a lot of threads on this...
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  3. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Interesting. I've got 898 000 hits for "book of him" and 7 300 000 for "The other side of him". And I know that sometimes Goggle gives a false number at the first page so I clicked on further pages and the No. of hits remained the same. So we either live in two different parallel realities, or Goggle gives different hits in different countries.:D
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  4. srk Senior Member

    South Bend, Indiana
    English - US
  5. abda2405 Senior Member

    Russian
  6. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    You make some interesting points. As a native speaker I had not noticed this difference. However there is a difference. I searched for "book of him" and found some examples. Here is an explanation:

    To make it simpler to understand I will talk about a picture rather than a book.

    (a) Suppose that John owns a picture of a dog.
    I could say "I like that picture of his."
    (b) Suppose that John's parents have a picture of John.
    His girlfriend could say "I like that picture of him."

    "A picture of his" refers to a picture owned by John. "A picture of him" refers to a picture that depicts John.

    Does this help?
     
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    It was properly corrected - "every book of him" is incorrect.
    It sounds absolutely awful to me and all other native speakers - why not use "by him"?
    This must be the very worst way of learning English.
    Hmmm ... not if you say, "every book of him", it doesn't!
    Can you give us an example?
    So, what you are saying is "It must be right because it sounds right to me and I decide what is right?" This is circular logic.
    Neither you nor I have seen them all, please give a few examples by native speakers?
    "The other side of him" is quite acceptable
    But it isn't, is it? "A book of him" is bad English for "his book". What about "a book of poetry."? "A book of questions." and "A book by Charles Dickens"? Why do we say "of questions." but "by Charles Dickens"?
    Do you think that "every book of him" means, "every book written by him?"

    Why do we use "by"?
     
  8. abda2405 Senior Member

    Russian
    I got confused here in things I've already known... Thank you for making it all clear!:) I wish I had a teacher like you guys:).
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  9. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Thanks. I was aware of the second use and it's correctness so I checked the Goggle hits. Some of them are really used the second way but not all.
     
  10. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    This is how native children learn how to speak. They don't use grammar books (before school) They just listen and the patterns they hear frequently got stored in their minds. Of course incorrectly used forms included.
     
  11. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Please give some specific examples of the "not all" or we cannot comment.
     
  12. abda2405 Senior Member

    Russian
    I guess he means "Some of them really used the second way but not everyone" or something like this. Oh, it seems "some of them" already says that not everyone did it, right?
     
  13. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    There are quite a few, but as PalQ suggested, most or all of them are reviews made by non-natives and blogs written by non-natives. It seems to be a common mistake made by non-natives, including myself:( That's why the large number of Goggle hits.
     
  14. abda2405 Senior Member

    Russian
    Tomtombp, Don't be sad:), by making mistakes we learn:).
     
  15. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Of course I don't decide what is right:) I just choose the option that I think is more probably correct, based on how often I've heard it before.
    Ok, I stand corrected. What confused me and the reason my mind recorded the "book of him" pattern is that it might be heard more frequently in Biffo's "picture of him" sense than in written by him "book of his" sense. In the latter case I think a "book (written) by him" or "his book", etc. is what is used.

    That keeps me confused. Is the possessive form expressed by "of his" or "of him" then? Ok, aside with the book example because in that special case the author doesn't possess the book it was just written by him.
     
  16. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    We do say his (or, in my case, her) book if that person is the author; it simply doesn't refer to a particular physical copy of the book but to the content (indeed, the author is the owner of the text under the principles of copyright; it's called intellectual property). If a person owns a copy of a book, that copy is indeed his or her book.
     
  17. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Now I know that the book example is also a possessive case where "a book of his" is the correct expression. Why is "the other side of him" acceptable then?
     
  18. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I understand your confusion. The fact is that a physical object has sides but does not own those sides.

    Here's another set of examples:

    1. John bought a side of beef today. I am very hungry I would like to have that side of his.

    2. John is sometimes happy and sometimes sad. I like the happy side of him.

    3. John got soup spilled on him. It was all over the left side of him.

    ______________________________________
    Side of beef - half of a cow that has been butchered and prepared for sale.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  19. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Thanks, Biffo!

    But it's "his happy side" and it's "his left" side in the examples above. Why is "of him" used then?

    Does that mean it is not a possessive case? Why is "his side" used then?
    How can I decide what is possessive and what's not? Should I always check if there's an ownership relation between the two persons or objects? This is something very strange to me and different from how possessive case is evaluated in Hungarian language.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  20. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    "Is the book at the front of the radio?"
    "No, it is on the other side of the radio/room/window."

    "Is the book on/to his right?"
    "No, it is on/to the other side of him."


    Here we are using "him" as a spatially relative object in the same way as we used "
    radio/room/window" We are saying "where" it is with respect to another object.

    You should look on "the side/right/rear/front/left/top/bottom of" as a set phrase (followed by the objective case) rather than a possessive qualifier.

    When we say "every book of his", of is indeed possessive, it does not locate the book, and therefore a possessive pronoun (possessive case) is required.

    ______________________

    There is a discredited rule in English that says, "animate objects take the genitive/possessive; inanimate objects take of" e.g. "His leg", but "the leg of the table."

    The rule was supported by your type of example:
    "No, it is on/to the other side of John.":cross: "No, it is on/to John's (his) other side." :tick:
    "No, it is on the other side of the radio/room/window." :tick: "No, it is on the radio's other side." :cross:

    If you see this, not as a rule, but as a sort of guidance, it might help.




     
  21. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    The difference only occurs when 'him' or 'his' occurs after the noun.

    Examples

    "Here is a photo that belongs to John."
    "I like his photo."
    "Yes, I like John's photo."


    "Here is a photo that I took of John when he was a child."
    "I like his photo."
    "Yes, I like John's photo."


    You can see that in the above examples there is an ambiguity in the responses. This is why we sometimes use the 'of' form. It removes the ambiguity.

    Compare with the following

    "Here is a photo that belongs to John."
    "I like this photo of his."
    "Yes, I like this photo of John's."


    "Here is a photo that I took of John when he was a child."
    "I like this photo of John."
    "Yes, I like this photo of John."

    This time the ambiguity is gone.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  22. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Thanks, PalQ for your detailed reply. I learned something new today:)

    And what makes this even more complicated is that "side" is followed by the objective case not only when used literally (expressing a spatial position) but also when it's used figuratively (funny side of him).
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  23. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    What I meant to ask was: why not "side of his" is used instead of "side of him" if "his side" is used:)
     
  24. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian


    I'm getting totally confused. Are you saying that "No, it is on/to the other side of him." is correct while "No, it is on/to the other side of John." is not? The only difference is that "he" is used (in the objective case) instead of his name in the first one.
     
  25. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Sorry I edited my previous post to cover this. #21 Have another look where I show the difference in more detail. :)
     
  26. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England

    I'm confused by this as well. In my opinion, the sentence does not provide support for the 'rule' so, in this rare case I think PaulQ has made an error.

    In any case, given that it is a discredited rule, I'm not sure you should try to understand it!
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  27. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    In expressions such as 'This is a book of his', the word 'his' is possessive but the word 'of' is not.
    In this case, 'of' is partitive: it means 'from among'.

    Thus the sentence means: 'This is one book from among his books'.
     
  28. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    That's a very good point. I agree except...

    I feel the need for a more accurate phrase than 'from among'. Suppose he has only one book?
     
  29. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    Connecticut
    English - US (Midwest)
    Then it would simply be "his book," not "a book of his."
     
  30. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I did consider that point but how about this for a counter-example?

    "How do you get on with John's parents?"
    "I like his father but I can't stand that dreadful mother of his."


    Clearly in this case John has only one mother but the expression is being used for emphasis. We could not say "among John's mothers" so it doesn't work in that case.
     
  31. Man_from_India Senior Member

    Indian English
    "Other side of him" is correct, but not "the book of him".
    But I am not sure about "other side of his", when talking about his character. I consider it to be incorrect as well.
    But again "his other side" is correct, we can rephrase it as "other side of his".
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  32. SevenDays Senior Member

    Spanish
    Nouns typically have determiners in front of them to make clear what the nouns refer to. In John's parents, "John's" is the determiner of "parents" ("John's" particularizes "parents" in the discourse). You can't have two or more determiners, so if a determiner is already in place ("that" in "that dreadful mother"), the concept of "his mother" (where "his" functions as determiner) has to be expressed with the "of" construction: that dreadful mother of his. Similarly, in a book of his, the determiner "a" (which indicates indefiniteness) calls for "of his," and in this is a book of his, the determiner "a" requires "of his." Of course, we can drop "a" (this is his book), where "his" functions as determiner of "book." Whether there is one or more books becomes a semantic and not a syntactic analysis. In "the book of him," I suspect "him" is used for the same reason that the accusative is used by some as the subject of the gerund (the book of him growing up in China, instead of the book of his growing up in China): the accusative "him" is more emphatic; it places more emphasis on the "person" rather than on the activity of "growing up." But while "him" with an overt gerund might be acceptable in informal use, I'm not sure the same can be said of "the book of him."
    Cheers
     
  33. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    So it seems. This kind of example could also be extended to the case of a single book: 'He hit me with that book of his'.

    My impression is that this kind of emphatic and distancing expression is parasitic upon normal partitive constructions.
    It seems to be a joking, or at least ironical, adaptation of what is basically a plural idea to let us express rejection or distancing from something.
    In fact, it could still be seen as partitive: 'that maternal relative from among his relatives', 'that literary possession from among his possessions'.
     
  34. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Thank you guys for all your comments. However, it's still not totally clear to me when to use "...of his" and "... of him" and "of name " and "of name's". So I will sum up what I'm not sure of and what I have learned. Excuse my ignorance of grammatical terms, I will be using examples instead. My questions will be marked bold.

    My original question #2 was: Why do we sometimes use " ... of his" other times " ... of him"

    This applies to true possessives (there's an ownership relation) and some special cases that aren't 100% possessives but are either be considered possessives and used as if they were possessives or used specially as exemptions. And finally there are forms that are clearly not possessives.

    1) We always say "his ..." regardless of what sense we mean to use it in, even if it's ambiguous, because that is the only option, none of "him ..." and "he ..." works, although in some dialect "me wife" is acceptable, but that's another story. Examples: "his dog", "his side", "his book", his photo".

    2) If we want to use the ".... of his/him" form,

    a) true (ownership) possessives are always expressed by ".... of his" - Clear.
    b) there are special cases like someone is in a photo or a book is written about someone, that are not possessives and therefore "... of him" is used. - This has always been clear to me.
    c) a book is written by someone is also a special case because the author doesn't own the book (he may have copies, but it's not relevant) but it was written by him. Here "... of his" is used as if it was a true possessive. - This wasn't clear to me, but now I learned it.
    d) there are other special cases that at the first glance seem true possessives but according to PalQ's post they are exemptions: they express spatial relations/positions. Examples are "side/right/rear/front/left/top/bottom". These are followed by "of him" instead "of his". - This I also learned.
    e) "side" is followed by "of him" even if it is used figuratively (happy side of him) - learned now.

    I wonder to what extent can this list be considered complete or are there any other exemptions where "... of him is used"?

    3) If names are used instead of "he" everything turns upside down:

    a) In case of true possessives it's "... of John's" - This is clear.
    b) In case of a photo depicting someone it's " a photo of John" and in case of a book about someone, it's "a book of John Lennon" - clear
    c) A book is written by Hemingway is "a book of Ernest Hemingway" or "a book of Ernest Hemingway's"? Since "a book of his" is the correct usage, the latter one should be correct but I'm not sure. Or neither of them is used? (according to PaulQ's rule that says this form is not used for animate objects.)
    d) In case of the spatial objects it's "on the other side of John"? - PaulQ marked this as incorrect because John is a person, so it should be "on John's other side". Is it really incorrect? It doesn't sound bad to me and there are a lot of Google hits including many written by natives.
    e) In case of "side" used figuratively, it's "the funny side of John"? I find this correct too, is it?

    Sorry for being this long, but I wanted to cover all cases, Thank you in advance.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  35. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    My advice would be to forget lists of rules for different cases. Instead, think in terms of function.

    The basic rule of function is: 'of' followed by a possessive (a book of Hemingway's) means 'from among' (see posts 27 and 33).

    With this rule in mind, read good books and quality journals, observe how this expression is used and analyse it in this way each time you meet it. Ignore usage in blogs, e-mails and general internet chit-chat. Do not rely on any source other than high-quality material for examples of English usage.
    You have to narrow your focus. Only rely on the best books, best newspapers, etc.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  36. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Thanks, wandle. How about "from among all his sides" (happy side, funny side, strict side, etc.). It is still "happy side of him".
    Anyway, I think almost all of the few exemptions have been covered here, so I might not need any rules at all. Thank you though.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  37. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    How about this… The simple explanation is that we say, This is a book of his but This is a side of him for reasons related to the early development of the language, and we make exceptions if it seems awkward.

    This is a book of his is explained by this entry in the OED ->
    This is a side of him is explained by this entry in the OED ->
     
  38. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Sorry, but I do not understand that.

    I have offered a functional explanation for 'of' followed by a possessive: for example, 'a book of Hemingway's', 'that mother of his', 'this idea of yours', etc. The meaning 'from among' applies to cases like these. I am not aware of any exceptions to this.

    The cases quoted by PaulQ from the OED as being appositional rather than partitive seem to me to be 'extended partitive', as suggested in post 33.
    Thus 'this son of mine' means 'this filial relative from among my relatives' and 'a dog of John's' means 'a canine [possession] from among John's possessions'.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  39. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    "happy side of him" is followed by the objective case rather than possessive. The possessive case would be "happy side of his". Since it was agreed earlier that "happy side of him" is the correct one, that's an exemption for me even though it is a choice "from among his many sides". Sorry If I'm wrong somewhere or miss something, as I mentioned, I'm unfamiliar with most grammatical terms, like "extended partitive", etc... Thank you.
     
  40. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    That is looking at it back to front, if I may say so.
    I offer an explanation for phrases such as 'this book of John's'.

    How can we explain 'of' followed by the possessive 'John's'?
    Answer: 'of' is partitive, 'John's' is possessive.

    What does the statement " 'of' is partitive " mean?
    It means that the book is one book from among John's books: in other words, it is one of his books.
    It is called 'partitive' because the one book is 'part' of the total of books or possessions.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  41. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I too was unfamiliar with the term 'partitive' but I now agree largely with what wandle is saying. Here is my explanation:

    If I say "I am one of John's friends." I am not stating that John's friends own me (perhaps as a slave! :eek:). I am saying that I am included among John's friends. The 'of' in this sense does not indicate ownership, it indicates inclusion.

    Does that help?
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  42. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    wandle, thank you for your explanation of what partitive means.
    What I don't understand is that, similarly to the book, "happy side" is also part of the total of his sides or in other words: one of his sides (although they are not possessed by him). Still, happy side "of him" or "of John" is the correct choise instead of happy side "of his" or "of John's". Maybe the key is the ownership as per Biffo's suggestion earlier?
    Again, sorry if I'm still missing or misunderstanding something.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  43. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I think that 'side' can be considered a special case. It depends whether you take a side to belong to a person or to refer to a part of the environment that is defined relative to the person. I would accept either of the following:

    There are two sides of him that I don't like.

    There are two sides of his that I don't like.


    I prefer the first but I can't say that the second is incorrect.
     
  44. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    This just further proves my "happy side" example, where his happy side is not owned by John, it's "just" part of his sides/belongs to his sides/included among John's sides!
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  45. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Please, forget all other examples, let's just concentrate on my "happy side" example, which seems to me a clear exemption to wandle's rule.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  46. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    I would not like to say that 'happy side of his' is impossible.

    Certainly, we would say things like 'Today, I saw the happy side of him'.
    We could add, 'What a change from his gloomy side!'
    Then someone might say, 'Oh, that gloomy side of his! It gives me the creeps.'

    The other question is, how do we explain 'of' in 'the happy side of him'?
    It seems to me this is either possessive, 'the happy side belonging to him' (which is odd, in that it is not separable from him), or derivative, meaning 'from him', the happy aspect we see as coming from him.

    It is important to remember that 'of' has many different meanings: not just the possessive.
     
  47. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    First let me point out that the term you need here is 'exception' not 'exemption'.
    (An exemption is generally a special permission granted to a person to free them from some obligation.)

    Secondly, as mentioned in post 46, 'happy side of his' is not an impossible expression, though certainly less common than 'happy side of him'. The point to remember is that the two phrases have different meanings.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  48. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Great point, wandle. I wanted to force possessive and was not even considering this.

    How about "the left side of him"? I wonder what the role of "of" is in this case?

    Thank you very much for pointing this out. I have no idea why I used it all throughout this thread. I also know "exception", which is furthermore a much more basic word. Maybe "exemption to the rule" was just another pattern my mind has registered and I just used it in a wrong way or context.:confused:
     
  49. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I think the problem is that it is impossible to give a categorical answer unless there is a context. (Such as wandle gave in #46 for 'happy side')

    _________________________________________________________
    Note: Normally we talk about exemption from a rule.
     
  50. tomtombp Senior Member

    Hungarian
    Here I meant "side" (no politics) in the physical/spacial sense, like in: "There are two secretaries, one on each side of the president, the minuting or elder secretary on the right, and the reading secretary on the left side of him."
    This is a sentence from "The Monthly Magazine, Or, British Register" by Richard Phillips, Volume 4., page 438. It seems an authentic source.

    Thanks, my mind must have combined two expressions resulting in a totally incorrect one then:confused:
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013

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