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Old March 13 2014, 05:22 AM   #1
Gryffindorian
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English Grammar & Logic Discussion

I have just concluded a two-day business writing seminar at work, and it was great to be reoriented with my all-time favorite field of study in school: English grammar! I am by no means an expert, and although English is my second language, I have a pretty good grasp of the parts of speech, grammar and mechanics, sentence structures, and spelling.

So let's have a fun little discussion on an otherwise dreaded subject.

Consider the following.
  1. One of my sisters' friends is an actress.
  2. One of my sister's friends is an actress.
  3. One of my sister's friend is an actress.
I'm willing to say that Sentences 1 and 2 are both correct in the use of possessives and apostrophes, but I have an issue with the third sentence. In the first sentence, the plural noun sisters has an apostrophe at the end, indicating that all of them have a common friend, i.e., their friend. Sentence 2 refers to only one sister having a friend, i.e., her friend.

From my perspective, the third statement has an awkward sound and poor construction although it carries the same message as Number 2, which is "I have a sister who has a friend who is an actress." BUT it looks grammatically incorrect.

Here's why. First, the phrase "one of," although singular in number, denotes one of many. Thus the object of the preposition of is plural in number (one of five, one of the computers, etc.). Second, in the given example Sentence 2, the phrase "one of" is linked to friends, which is the object of the preposition of. Whereas in the third example, "one of" points to sister's, which is a modifier of the noun friends.

Yet I often hear this awkward construction from daily conversations or even read such format in print.
One of my neighbors' cat is missing.
What say you???

EDIT: My gramma taught me grammar. Sorry about the typo in the thread title.

Mods, thanks for the correction.
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Last edited by Gryffindorian; March 13 2014 at 07:26 AM.
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Old March 13 2014, 05:29 AM   #2
sojourner
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Re: English Gramma & Logic Discussion

I thought this thread was going to be about dementia in the elderly of Britain.

But seriously, for your stated reason, no. 3 is improperly phrased. Any example of it you find is just poor grammar.
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Old March 13 2014, 06:25 AM   #3
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Re: English Gramma & Logic Discussion

Sentence one says, "I have a sister and one of her friends (she has more than one friend) is an actress." OK, fine.

Sentence two says, "I have more than one sister, but one of my sisters has a friend (she has more than one friend) who is an actress." OK, fine.

Sentence three is illogical. "One of" indicates one of a group of friends. What that sentence says is akin to "One in the group of things she has, of which she has only one( so it's one of the group, but there is no group), does that job." That makes no sense at all. It doesn't just look grammatically incorrect; it IS grammatically incorrect. We can figure out what the person is trying to say, because we have gotten used to people making these kind of moronic mistakes, so we automatically fill in the correct information for them. That doesn't make the person saying it sound less moronic, however.
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Old March 13 2014, 06:47 AM   #4
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Re: English Gramma & Logic Discussion

auntiehill wrote: View Post
Sentence one says, "I have a sister and one of her friends (she has more than one friend) is an actress." OK, fine.

Sentence two says, "I have more than one sister, but one of my sisters has a friend (she has more than one friend) who is an actress." OK, fine.

Sentence three is illogical. "One of" indicates one of a group of friends. What that sentence says is akin to "One in the group of things she has, of which she has only one( so it's one of the group, but there is no group), does that job." That makes no sense at all. It doesn't just look grammatically incorrect; it IS grammatically incorrect. We can figure out what the person is trying to say, because we have gotten used to people making these kind of moronic mistakes, so we automatically fill in the correct information for them. That doesn't make the person saying it sound less moronic, however.
Did you mean the opposite for Sentences 1 and 2?

My fourth sentence (shown after having done some edits) is similar to my third example:
One of my neighbors' cat is missing.

In other words, "I have many neighbors, and one of those neighbors has a cat that disappeared." Although most people may understand the logic, it still sounds awkward. One doesn't say "one of my cat"; it should be "one of my cats." So the rewrite should read, "One of my neighbors' cats is missing," but I can understand the speaker may be referring to a single specific neighbor, named Derek. In this case, the speaker should just say or write, "My neighbor Derek's cat is missing."
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Old March 13 2014, 07:36 AM   #5
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

^You and auntiehill have both given plausible interpretations for sentence 1, either a)you have multiple sisters who share a common friend who is an actress (your interpretation) or b)you have multiple sisters and one of your sisters has a friends who is an actress (auntie's interpretation). I read the sentence the way auntie interpreted it, and I would guess that most native English speakers would do the same, though technically your interpretation also makes sense. If I wanted to convey that my sisters had a common friend who was an actress, I would have to be more explicit: "A friend of my sisters' is an actress."
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Old March 13 2014, 07:51 AM   #6
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Re: English Gramma & Logic Discussion

How about "One of our aircraft is missing"?

(Yes, I know that's correct because "aircraft" can be either singular or plural.)


One thing that gets my knickers in a twist is when people forget whether the subject of a sentence is plural or singular, just because there are words separating the subject and verb. For example:

"Any language that is used for conversations are dynamic and change constantly."

Of course, the correct sentence is: "Any language that is used for conversations is dynamic and changes constantly."

We used to diagram sentences in school to help us understand sentence construction and to avoid this kind of error. I don't suppose they teach kids to do that anymore.
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Old March 13 2014, 07:59 AM   #7
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

^I think the most common example of that would be the classic "There's eggs in the fridge."
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Old March 13 2014, 08:08 AM   #8
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

We were dining with some Polish people last month. One of the other couples were Hungarian. Their kids were all speaking English even although the Hungarians had only been in country for about 8 months, because, as the Hungarian wife (who was a biology teacher at a local school) pointed out; "English is much easier than our languages".

I don't think people should labour grammar too much when the magic of English is its universality. Of course it's important, not least for long and fun arguments, but it's not as important as pedants think it is.
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Old March 13 2014, 08:17 AM   #9
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

I think, as with any language, native speakers are much harsher on other native speakers when it comes to grammar.
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Old March 13 2014, 08:17 AM   #10
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

Deckerd wrote: View Post
I don't think people should labour grammar too much when the magic of English is its universality. Of course it's important, not least for long and fun arguments, but it's not as important as pedants think it is.
I do agree with that. I think the structure of language is interesting, and I like the rules and technicalities because they're fun to play with (why I love puns), but I'm not too bothered by imperfect usage. Too much pedantry takes away the fun!

I like this:

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Old March 13 2014, 08:24 AM   #11
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

"SOUND-SEX."
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Old March 13 2014, 08:26 AM   #12
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

I prefer the audio podcast without all that dreadful prezi or whatever it is. Not criticizing you, TSQ, natch.
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Old March 13 2014, 08:39 AM   #13
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

^I just like the speech. In three senses of the word.
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Old March 13 2014, 05:28 PM   #14
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Re: English Gramma & Logic Discussion

auntiehill wrote: View Post
Sentence three is illogical. "One of" indicates one of a group of friends. What that sentence says is akin to "One in the group of things she has, of which she has only one( so it's one of the group, but there is no group), does that job." That makes no sense at all. It doesn't just look grammatically incorrect; it IS grammatically incorrect. We can figure out what the person is trying to say, because we have gotten used to people making these kind of moronic mistakes, so we automatically fill in the correct information for them. That doesn't make the person saying it sound less moronic, however.
I have to agree with you here. Sentence 3 is flat out wrong.

"One of my neighbors' cats..." or "My neighbor's cat..." would be correct, but the way it's currently worded just sounds awkward.

The word your talking about is "cats," not "neighbors." Neighbors is simply an adjective in this sentence. "One of" implies that there are multiple cats, regardless of who they belong to.
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Old March 13 2014, 10:01 PM   #15
Gryffindorian
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Re: English Grammar & Logic Discussion

thestrangequark wrote: View Post
^You and auntiehill have both given plausible interpretations for sentence 1, either a)you have multiple sisters who share a common friend who is an actress (your interpretation) or b)you have multiple sisters and one of your sisters has a friends who is an actress (auntie's interpretation). I read the sentence the way auntie interpreted it, and I would guess that most native English speakers would do the same, though technically your interpretation also makes sense. If I wanted to convey that my sisters had a common friend who was an actress, I would have to be more explicit: "A friend of my sisters' is an actress."
Right, but just to nitpick:

Example 1 is one of my sisters' friends (which is equivalent to "one of their friends," plural sisters).

Example 2 shows one of my sister's friends (which is equivalent to "one of her friends," singular sister).

Another one of my pet peeves is the misuse of reflexive pronouns (e.g., myself, yourself, ourselves, themselves). Oftentimes I see or hear people use them as the subject of a sentence or the object, and it makes me want to scream!
  • Mike and myself are going to have a few drinks at the bar.
  • You can just give the form to Erica or myself.
Reflexive pronouns should be used only to emphasize a point or to denote an action that reflects back to the subject.
  • I myself couldn't believe what just happened. (Emphasis)
  • Is Gryffindorian talking to himself again? (Action that refers back to the subject)
EDIT:


OK, I see what TSQ and auntiehill meant in the very first example (One of my sisters' friends is an actress). There are two different interpretations.
  • The "one of" phrase in One of my sisters' is often referred to as a single unit that acts as the possessive for what's following, which in the example is friends. (Jackie is one of my sisters; she has an actress friend, i.e., Jackie's friend.)
  • My interpretation is that when I first see "one of," I treat one as the subject of the sentence in the given example. (One of my [four] sisters' friends is an actress; they may have a common friend who happens to be an actress, or maybe only one of them has an actress buddy.)
In any case, both are grammatically correct but need clarity.
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Last edited by Gryffindorian; March 13 2014 at 11:29 PM.
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