Friends who are an only child? or only children?

Interhigh6744

Member
Korean
Hello everyone :)

I'm always confused at which one I should used in sentences.

"I envied my friends who were an only child" or "I envied my friends who were only children"

"Friends" are plural here, but can I still use "an only child" after the verb "were"?

Many thanks in advance :)
 
  • heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "I envied my friends who were an only child" :thumbsup: I would go with this.

    "I envied my friends who were only children" :thumbsdown: This sounds as if they were merely or just children.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Yes, singular makes sense there. It's also better, in this instance, because 'only children' sounds like it means "not grown up yet". Likewise, if a psychology study was done on people who had no siblings, then it is also done on people who were an only child. The more I think of this, the worse 'only children' sounds.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    In this case, yes, but don't take it as a 'rule', or guidance that you can do it in all cases. :)
    It's just in this context "an only child" really grinds on my ear being used with "friends":D (but I'm not a native speaker)

    I wouldn't have problem with something like this though:

    Lift your hands those of you who were an only child.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Coincidentally, I've just read an article that uses 'only children' as plural of 'only child', and it sounds misleading here too:

    In Enquist et al’s model, the presence of a younger sibling causes the lactation fetish. In my model, the presence of an older sibling suppresses openness to experience and prevents fetish formation. So if only children behaved more like older siblings, that would support my model; if they behaved more like younger children, it would support Enquist et al.

    It sounds like 'if only children behaved like . . .' = "I wish children behaved like . . ."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It's just in this context "an only child" really grinds on my ear being used with "friends"
    It grates on mine, too, Vic.

    In speech, I'd use the plural "only children" because the intonation would make my meaning clear. In writing, I'd use neither, because of the ambiguity people have mentioned: I'd rewrite the sentence.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It's commonly used this way in AmE (I would also have used present tense - you don't stop being an only child at 18). Perhaps it should be a hyphenated noun. The emphasis in speech is slightly different between "They are only children." and "They are only-children."
     
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