You’re a poet and didn’t even know it!

Rick Broadaway

I sometimes hear my students say things like "I went bowling with my friend" or "I met my friend yesterday." Such sentences are not incorrect, grammatically speaking. But whenever I hear the expression "my friend," I think to myself, "Only one friend? Poor you!" Now, if it is true that you only have one friend in the world, then you can stop reading here. It is very appropriate for you to say things like "My friend and I." (After all, one true friend is probably all one really needs.) However, if you are lucky enough to have more than one friend, then I suggest that you use a different expression whenever you refer to just one of them. Here it is. Put it in your memory.

a friend of mine

Now if you say, "I met a friend of mine yesterday" I will think to myself, "A person of many friends! Lucky you!"

So, what happens if you want to talk about something that you both did together? Well, if you follow the textbooks, then you must say, "a friend of mine and I." For example, "A friend of mine and I went to see a movie together." But, people don’t always talk like the grammar books tell them they should – even native speakers. So, you will probably hear people say "me and a friend of mine." For instance, "Me and a friend of mine went to see a movie together."

Why does this happen? In a word – poetry. Usually one expression is more easy to enunciate than the other. Speakers unconsciously adapt their speech to make things "sound right." Notice how the alteration of stressed and unstressed syllables is different in each version:

  1. a FRIEND of MINE and I
  2. ME and a FRIEND of MINE

Both rhythm patterns are quite common and natural in spoken English. In fact, the first is the same pattern used by Shakespeare in his famous line: "to BE or NOT to BE." Perhaps some speakers have a preference for one rhythm over another, in the same way that one might prefer hip-hop music over rock.

Repetition of sounds may be another factor in a speaker’s unconscious preference for one pattern. There are two kinds of repetition in the above examples: assonance and alliteration. Assonance occurs when two words have the same vowel sound, like in the first pattern: "MINE" and "I." This kind of repetition may feel awkward to some people, causing them to avoid it. Alliteration, on the other hand, occurs when two words begin with the same consonant sound, like in the second pattern: "ME" and "MINE." The repetition in this case sounds pleasing, at least it does to my ear.

As a student you would be well advised to follow the grammar rules since they are used to formulate test questions in school. However, keep in mind that such rules are more often followed in written English rather than in spoken English. There is poetry in the spoken language, where different rules may sometimes apply. In this regard, the old children’s saying holds true:

You’re a poet
And didn’t even know it

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