Etymology Grammar Usage

Hers, ours, theirs—and mines?

A: I’m hearing a usage among teens in the Bronx, where I teach: “I got mines.” The speakers aren’t referring to either explosive devices or places to find ore. They’re adding an “s” to the pronoun “mine” in line with “hers,” “ours,” and “theirs.” Is this regional, cultural, or specific to inner cities?

Q: You’re right in thinking that “mines” is an alteration of “mine” along the analogy of “hers,” “ours,” and “theirs.”

The Oxford English Dictionary thinks so too, and identifies “mines” as a regionalism. There’s no mention in the OED of inner-city American usage, though.

Oxford says “mines” is chiefly Scottish, and several other linguistic sources we checked say it’s a feature of Scots dialect.

The OED’s first citation for the written use of “mines” (spelled “myns”) is from a letter by Sir John Drummond, a Scottish nobleman, in 1661: “Giv order to Bruntfeild for your part off his bond, for myns shall be at Edinburgh this weik.”

In another example, a Scotsman quotes an Irishman as using “mines.” It’s from A Sea Lawyer’s Log by William Lang (1919): “ ‘Innyone as hasn’t had a letter can have a rub of mines,’ says Moriarty, the big Irishman, generously.”

Apparently the Scots are still using “mines.” Here’s an example from Jeff Torrington’s Swing Hammer Swing! (1992), a novel set in Glasgow:

“If there really was such an entity as the human soul then mines would be packing its astral bags and getting ready to ram the clenched gates of my body.”

The OED also has a 1977 citation from The Torchlight, a newspaper in St. George’s, Grenada, but we can’t tell who’s speaking: “I know you have your gun and I have mines.”

We didn’t find much in the way of scholarly articles on the use of “mines” as an American regional usage, but it’s obviously around.

It crops up in hip-hop lyrics as well as in blog postings and discussion groups.

Searches of the journal American Speech turned up a couple of leads as well.

A 1956 article quotes a man from Providence, R.I., whose method of laying claim to something—or getting “dibs” on it—was to say, “All mines, fellas, all mines!”

And a 1942 article reported that Hawaiian children were much more likely to use “mines” (meaning “mine”) than children on the mainland.

One of the better articles we found was about one teacher’s method of dealing with nonstandard usages like “mines.”

In 1996, Rhoda Byler Yoder, who says she teaches ”inner city students in Jackson, Mississippi,” wrote in The English Journal (published by the National Council of Teachers of English):

“After comparing the possessive pronoun pairs (my/mine, our/ours, your/yours, her/hers, his/his, its/its, their/theirs), students readily note the –s ending on all the other possessive pronouns when used alone and see that their use of mines makes logical sense. This knowledge inspires their pride in their language ability, allows them to chuckle at the illogical SAE [Standard American English] form, and increases their willingness to practice the SAE form.”

Here a natural question arises: Why do the other so-called nominal pronouns (those that can stand alone, like “his,” “hers,” “ours,” “yours,” “theirs”) end in “s” while “mine” doesn’t?

One might even ask, Why don’t they all end, like “mine,” with an “n” sound? Well, it turns out, there’s some evidence they once did.

As The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) points out, “hisn, hern, ourn, yourn, and theirn have a long history in English.”

“They arose in the Middle English period (c. 1100-1500) by analogy with mine and thine, forms that are older than my and thy and that can be traced to Old English (c. 449-1100),” the dictionary says.

In fact, American Heritage continues, “these -n forms may be older than the current standard -s forms, which arose late in the Middle English period, by analogy to his.

Although the old “n” endings may have history on their side, they’re now considered regionalisms.

“Most likely, hern, ourn, yourn, and theirn originated somewhere in the central area of southern England,” says American Heritage, “since they can still be found throughout many parts of that region.”

In the United States, the dictionary adds, “the forms appear to be increasingly confined to older speakers in relatively isolated areas, indicating that these features are at last fading from use.”

And “mines”?

“In some Southern-based vernacular dialects, particularly African American Vernacular English,” AH says, “the irregular standard English pattern for nominal possessive forms has been regularized by adding -s to mine, as in That book is mines.

And that’s apparently what you’re hearing among your students in the Bronx.

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