How ‘mine’ functions as pronoun, adjective, or determiner

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This interesting grammar question was posted in Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently by John Johnson, a new member based in Russia:

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“There is no doubt that ‘mine’ is a pronoun in ‘She is an old acquaintance of mine.’ But I am not so sure for ‘This table is mine.’ Is it a pronoun or adjective/determiner?”

My reply to John:
You’re definitely right that “mine” functions as a pronoun in “She is an old acquaintance of mine.” It means “that which belongs to me,” and has the same meaning as the adjective “my” when used with a noun that follows it, as in “She is my old acquaintance.”

In “This table is mine,” however, “mine” works not as a pronoun but as the possessive case of “I” functioning as a predicate adjective that modifies the subject of the sentence. In that particular sentence, the subject is “this table” and the predicate adjective is “mine,” which is connected to the subject by the linking verb “is.”

You also asked whether the word “mine” is a determiner in “The table is mine.” The answer is no. But “mine” has a special function as a determiner that’s now considered archaic. In poetry, it can substitute for “my” before a word that begins with a vowel or a silent “h,” as in these two lines from Sir Philip Sidney’s “Sonnets from Astrophel and Stella”: Let not mine eyes be hell-driven from that light / O look, O shine, O let me die and see.

Other than this limited use, a determiner is normally positioned at the beginning of the noun phrase to indicate whether it’s being used in a specific or general sense.

A specific determiner is used when the speaker or writer believes that the listener or reader knows exactly what’s being referred to. The specific determiners are the definite article “the”; the possessives “my,” “your,” “his,” “her,” “its,” “our,” “their,” and “whose”; the demonstratives “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those”; and the interrogative “which.”

On the other hand, a general determiner is used when the speaker or writer is talking about things in general and the listener or reader doesn’t know exactly what’s being referred to. The general determiners are “a,” “an,” “any,” “another,” “other,” and “what.”

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Reader Eddie de Leon posted this response to last week’s column, “Wrong or willfully violated mall parking signs in English”:

“Why do you use the word ‘signage’ instead of ‘sign’? The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘signage’ as 1. ‘Signs considered as a group. 2. The design or use of signs and symbols.’ I suspect you have agreed to follow the anti-plain and simple affectation of ignorant people who have finished college courses in design, or even architecture, where pretentious professors use jargon like “signage” improperly.”

My reply to Eddie:
In the communication industry, a clear distinction is made between “signs” and “signages.” A sign is generally any natural or informal indication that can be perceived by the senses or the reason, like dark clouds before rain or the remarkably sudden receding of the shoreline before a tsunami; on the other hand, signage is a formal system of identification, warning, or direction, like the usual parking billboards that I talked about and the more complex corporate identity systems developed by modern-day companies.

I therefore beg to disagree with you that the usage of the word “signage” instead of “sign” is jargon, or “the anti-plain and simple affectation of ignorant people who have finished college courses in design.” On the contrary, it is the use of more precise, discerning language to denote a particular, much more specific use of symbolism to communicate things and ideas. I do think that for clarity’s sake, there’s a need for this more exacting word rather than the one you have in mind for plain, simple talk.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

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