the key of the door [age 21]

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  • Ferrydog

    Senior Member
    In the UK one is considered to be adult at the age of 18. However, before 1970 this 'age of majority', as it was called, was 21. In other words, one became an adult on one's twenty-first birthday.

    Frequently a celebration cake would be made to mark the occasion and this cake would often have a key as a decoration, symbolising the key to adulthood. Birthday cards were similarly decorated.


    Senior Member
    Hmm. Well spotted !

    I think you are correct about one being more likely to say 'key to the door'. But we are considering a song lyric here (I think) and there may be poetic licence perhaps at play.

    Considering the two options, 'key of the door' suggests to me that the key is already in the door(lock) and just needs to be turned to release the lock; there is probably just one suitable key. 'Key in the door' would be even more specific. To me, 'key to the door' suggests that one has to bring a key to that door to achieve the same result. These are very subtle shades of meaning and inference with which others might well disagree.


    Senior Member
    Peruvian Spanish.
    "The key of the door" just doesn't sound good to me. "The key in the door" sounds much better, but then, like you said, it refers to the location of the key (being inside the door and ready to be turned). "The key to the door" is what sounds natural and it suggests that that one key is used to unlock/lock such door. Interesting :)


    Senior Member
    English - England
    I found this extract from The Encyclopedia of Superstitions by Richard Webster on line:
    People turning twenty-one are often given cardboard keys to celebrate this milestone of maturity and independence. Alec Kendal mentioned this in his popular song I'm twenty-one today, which was published in 1912.
    I'm twenty-one today!
    Twenty-one today!
    I've got the key of the door!
    Never been twenty-one before!
    And father says I can do what I like!
    So shout Hip-hip-hooray!
    I'm a jolly good fellow,
    Twenty-one today."

    I remember my grandma singing this song when I turned 21!

    Violet Summers

    New Member
    Further to the previous answers:

    It was traditional, in England for the older son or daughter, upon reaching 21, to receive a key to the front door of their parents home, if they were at that time still living there. It was the key to adulthood, but they were often also given the privilege to come and go as they pleased, at what time they liked.
    As a child in the fifties I was often told in answer to a question, "I'll tell you when you're 21." Being twenty-one was considered being grown up.
    Everyone up until the age of twenty was still, even if they had begun work, considered a child and subject to their parents authority. In 1968, my 18 year old boyfriend was grounded by his father for coming in at 1.00am on New Year's Eve. Nine or ten o'clock was considered the latest one should be out with a girlfriend in those days.

    Grammar wizard

    New Member
    British English
    Shouldn't it be the "key to the door"?
    Grammatically "key of the door" is correct. It is not about location of the key but about the key that belongs to the door, this makes it possessive. Another example would be "the father of the bride", in other words the "bride's father". In this case using the 's is acceptable, but when two inanimate objects are being discussed the 's can't be used. Think about "the car's door". This is incorrect as both car and door are inanimate. Therefore you have to say "the door of the car". Likewise you cannot say "the door's key" (two inanimate objects), so it has to be "the key of the door".


    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Oh, I had read in books that "key of the door" was incorrect and it had to be "key to the door" and hence, I've always used "to". But I just searched on Google Ngram and got results for both "of" :idea: and "to" (used by native English speakers) , though "to" seems to be more common in modern times.

    Thanks a lot, Grammar wizard and everyone else.
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