grand nephew versus great nephew

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Gailo99, Sep 16, 2007.

  1. Gailo99 New Member

    Why is there no explanantion for the word grand nephew in the oxford dictionary. Our niece had a son and in england he is called our great nephew but in America he is called Grand nephew. Which is correct?
  2. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Many genealogists (and I am an amateur one) have begun stressing the use of "Grand Nephew" for the situation you describe (at least here in North America) because it is emminently logical. The use of "Great" niece or "Great" Nephew is the only instance of illogical titles in a family tree hierarchy.

    Your parents' parents are your "grand"parents and you are their "grand"child. You are two generations apart. Your grandparents' parents are your "great"-grandparents. You are three generations apart. It thus makes no sense at all to have a nephew who is two generations removed from you to be your "Great" Nephew. He is your "Grand" Nephew and his son would be your "Great"-Grand Nephew.

    I'm glad you asked this question because your mostly hear people refer to their "great" nephew and when I explain the lack of logic behind it, I see the lightbulbs come on. As soon as I explain it, people tell me it makes absolute sense to use "grand" instead of "great".

    And, by the way, most genealogy programs (either on computer or on paper), here in North America, refer to these relationships as "grand" and not "great".
  3. Gailo99 New Member

    In England though there is no such person as a grand nephew? The word is not even in the oxford dictionary.
  4. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Well, what can I say? It's obviously another difference beween AE and BE. The term "great nephew" has been around a long time and perhaps the OED has not yet caught up with the logic of "grand" nephew.:D
  5. gypsychic New Member

    While I agree that it's a bit confusing to use "grand" for one's parents' parents (grandmother, grandfather), & to not follow suit with other relatives (i.e.: grandnephew, granduncle, etc.), the only illogical titles are the ones with "grand" as the rest of the relationships are called "great" once removed by one degree. It, therefore, makes perfect sense for the nephew of one's niece to be called "great nephew," as the uncle is then called, in turn, "great uncle." I can't recall hearing people speak of "grand aunts" or "grand uncles"...

    I vote for keeping the English language uniform at this would avoid creating more confusion than already exists...

    mother, father; grandmother, grandfather; great-grandmother, great-grandfather

    aunt, uncle; great-aunt, great-uncle; great-great-aunt, great-great-uncle

    niece, nephew; great-niece, great-nephew; great-great-niece, great-great-nephew
  6. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    When did logic ever enter into the use of words; however, as gypsychic points out, there is an extra gap in connection, and the use of "great" becomes more rational.
  7. If logic played a major part in language development, none of the languages now spoken inthe world would exist!

    The answer to the question "which is correct?" is that "grand" is correct in North America and "great" is correct in Britain.

    I've no doubt the world's other English-speakers mix and match!
  8. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I checked the OED, and grand-nephew is there, with the definition
    I then found great-nephew (in the entry for "great"): the definition given is
    I'm now exceedingly confused!

    I can get my brain (just about) around "a son's or daughter's nephew" by assuming this means "a son's or daughter's nephew by marriage".

    But I don't actually think I'd use 'great-nephew' for that relationship, whereas I would use it for son of a nephew or niece...

    By the way, welcome to the forum, gypsychic!
  9. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    I don't think I've heard "grand nephew" before, only "great nephew".
  10. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    The problem with keeping it "uniform" is that it isn't. Many people refer to "grand" uncles and "grand" aunts while others of you refer to them as "great". The problem with using "great" for a once-removed uncle is that when you get to the "great, greats", you've lost track of the generations. "Grand" ancestors are two generations above you (your grandparents and their siblings). "Great-grand" ancestors are three generations above you (your great-grandparents, the parents of your grandparents). To use "great uncle" for your grandfather's brother skews everything. Using that logic, our grandparents should be our "greatparents".

    I am the great-granddaughter of John M.
    I am the great-grandniece of his brothers.
    They are my great-granduncles.

    I am the granddaughter of Fred M.
    I am the grandniece of his brothers.
    They are my granduncles.

    Not very confusing...
  11. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    We use the "great" version in NZE. I have a great aunt, and I am her great nephew.
  12. Sedulia

    Sedulia Senior Member

    Paris, France
    **Literate** American English
    I'm American, interested in genealogy, and never heard the expression "grand-nephew" before in my life.

    I vote to keep usage the same as in Britain and I think "great" is still the usage in America too except among the few genealogists who may be trying to change it. I understand their reasoning but it's not worth the confusion with the usual term.
  13. Andreyevich

    Andreyevich Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Australia/Britain - English
    We use "Great" in Australia, as in pretty much all other Commonwealth nations.
  14. yeomanpip New Member

    British English
    Having looked through this forum briefly I do think that some people forget the differences in language.

    I speak British English, which is a paradox in itself.
    Somerset born and bred, I have a friend who has recently moved from Newcastle, The only time we can really understand each other is when we have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol!
    My accent originating from King Alfred, and his from the Vikings, I say accent because there isn't much actual language left within after the onslaught of other languages (especially Latin).
    Its Historical, as is the development of languages outside of England, whether it's Canadian, American, Jamaican etc its a derivative of English, as opposed to actually being English, (It's also notable that each country mentioned has alternative languages too)

    Language, in my opinion is not, nor has it ever been, a static entity, it develops and changes.

    Which is the reason I came here, because I too was unsure.

    Now I'm sure, I'm sticking with Great.
  15. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello, yeomanpip, and welcome to the forums from another Somerset-born-and-bred forero (though I left Somerset many years ago).

    The longer you stay around the forums, the more you'll find that we're acutely sensitized to different varieties of language:)

    I look forward to lots more posts from you, me acker!
  16. yeomanpip New Member

    British English
    Ow do Loob,
    And Thankyou for the welcome.
    Proper Job!
  17. Ruanaidh New Member

    I use grand nephew - grand niece simply because it is easier to keep them straight. My brother's grand children are my grand nephews, his great-grand children are my great-grand nephews. My grandfather's brothers are my grand uncles and my great-grandmother's sisters are my great-grand aunts.
  18. homedaddy23 New Member

    English - American
    I think Ruanaidh has the right idea, personally. I'm one of those who have never heard the terms "great niece/nephew". It seems easier to keep them straight when you think of them first as your sibling's "grand"children. If they're "grand"children, they should be "grand"nieces/nephews.
  19. mushroomz New Member

    wombling free, ask the Wombles' leader: Great Uncle Bulgaria
  20. gyrlfrend New Member

    English - American
    I've also been wondering about this. I'd never heard the phrase 'grand-nephew' before, but when my niece had her first child almost five years ago (wow I can't believe it's been that long!) we were trying to figure it out. I'd forgotten about it, until I was working on something tonight and the question came up. So I looked it up and on a dictonary site I found this (I also copied the copyright info. No infringement intended :)):

    great-nephew definition
    great·-nephew (grātnef′yo̵̅o̅)
    a grandson of one's brother or sister; grandnephew

    Webster's New World College Dictionary Copyright © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.
    Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    So, I'm guessing either is correct. So confusing though!
  21. Journo Emeritus New Member

    American English
    I was a professional user of American English in a long career as a writer and editor for The Associated Press. I have always understood "great-nephew" to mean the son of one's niece or nephew and, until coming upon this thread, have never encountered "grand nephew" as a substitute. I agree with those who contend that "great-nephew" is the historically correct form and that "grand nephew" is the invention of some to whom it seems more linguistically logical.

    This very site tells us:

    Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 Oxford University Press:
    a son of one's nephew or niece.
  22. Keep it simple New Member

    English English
    Why change for changes sake ?

    Great grandparents, grandparents, parents, sons/daughters and grandsons/ grand-daughters and great grandsons/great grand-daughters are all that are required, regarding the prefixes GRAND.

    Every other appropriate variation is great, great great or great great great,................... (i.e., great great uncle, great great nephew, etc).

    To use the good old English maxim.........."If it aint broke, dont fix it" !

  23. NZSHAMAN New Member

    New Zealand
    ENGLISH Educated British with NZ overlay
    Some languages such as Norwegian have a set of family relationship terms that tend to function as a system. For example you start off with the terms (in Norwegian of course) brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter and you then derive all other relationships from these terms.

    Thus your paternal grandfather is your father's-father; your nephew is your brother's-son (quite distinct from your sister's-son); your uncle could be your mother's-brother. Having such a system means that if you don't know the precise term for a relationship, you can derive it. Similarly if you meet a new term such as father's-mother's-brother, you can work out precisely what the relationship is. Note that this is much more accurate than great-uncle who could be one of four possibilities: father's-father's-brother, father's-mother's-brother, mother's-mother's-brother, mother's-father's-brother.

    English by contrast, has only a partial system with a lot of individual terms such as cousin-twice-removed (and a lot of ambiguity). With a system you can use logic to help you determine correctness, but with a mere set of words, the only determinant of correctness has to be usage.

    Thus if a majority of Americans concur that they use grand-nephew, then this must be deemed correct. A sociologist would have a field day postulating which changes in society caused a breakdown in either the system or the set of terms for family relations. I am sure that I am not alone in being rather vague as to what a grand-niece, or a third-cousin might be.

    If I am indeed typical, this might suggest that many of the more esoteric terms are in the process of linguistic decay and eventual death. Certainly, here in New Zealand the terms bro and cuz have expanded their meanings to subsume a great number of relationships.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 4, 2013
  24. lewisld7729 New Member

    Thanks so much for this post. I use a little different logic: my "grand niece" is my sister's granddaughter. Besides, no one I know of says "great daughter", so why would they say "great niece"?
  25. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Welcome to the forums, lewisld7729:).

    Do you also say "grand(-)uncle" and "grand(-)aunt"?
  26. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I'm an AE speaker, but I think I was in my late 30s, with several great-nieces and a great-nephew or two already, before I ever heard of a "grand-niece" or "grand-nephew."
  27. lewisld7729 New Member

    Absolutely! That's what I teach them to use when they refer to me. It's so much easier to explain to them that since their mother's sister is their aunt, their grandmother's sister is their grandaunt, and their great grandmother's sister is their great grandaunt. Simplicity itself!!!

  28. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    In case anyone thinks it relevant, I just checked the dates of the earliest citations in my OED.

    Great-uncle - 1438
    Grand-uncle - 1475
    Great-nephew - 1581
    Grand-nephew - 1639

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