I am an/the only child in my family

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boggiee

Senior Member
Turkish
Hi,

1- I am an only child in my family.
2- I am the only child in my family.
3- It is not a good thing to be an only child in the family.
4- It is not a good thing to be the only child in the family.

I have four sentences I cannot say exactly which ones are OK. I think sentences 2 and 3 are OK. Am I right? (P.S I have difficulty in those sentences because of 'in my/the family')

Thanks.
 
  • Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hello boggiee. They are all ok. And it doesn't matter whether you say "my" or "the" family. The family can only be understood as the family of the only child. You can't be an only child in someone else's family.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I disagree. Sentence 1 is wrong. You can't be "an only child in my family", you must be "the only child". There is only one only child in a family that has an only child.
    "I am an only child" is, of course, fine. For the same reason, 3 is also dubious. It could be "It is not a good thing to be an only child in a family".
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    The term 'only child' is often used to refer to a person (it could be an adult) who has no siblings.

    I suppose you could be the only child of a given family if everyone else in the family was an adult, your brothers and sisters included. If that were the case, then it would be wise to clarify what you mean if you say 'only child', in order to avoid ambiguity.

    It might also depend on how widely you're casting the net when using the word family.

    Does your understanding of 'family' encompass cousins? Maybe one of your cousins is an only child (ie. has no siblings). Perhaps several of them are.

    Most people consider their mothers to be part of the family, but perhaps she has no brothers or sisters, that is, perhaps she is/was an only child.

    eg. If your mother was an only child, and if you were her first and last child, then you're not the only only child in the family (ie. among the members of your family, there are others who, like you, have no siblings).

    So tell us what you're trying to say, boggiee.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    It doesn't matter what the intended meaning is. If the person has no siblings they are the only child in the family. If the person has only adult relatives they are the only child in the family. If the person is the only person in the family, however extended, who has no siblings, they are the only only child in the family. Even if the extended family includes several only children, no native speaker would say "I am an only child in the family". They might say "I am an only child, and so are my mother, my aunt Freda and my cousin Kate".
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hi Andy, one of the problems with posters on the forum asking about a stand-alone sentence devoid of any semantic context is that we respondents can sometimes assume a context of our own and then rule out any other possible context. There's nothing wrong with any of the OP's sentences in the appropriate context, but he didn't say what his context was.

    If I'm asked if I have any brothers or sisters and I have none, "I'm the only child in my family" is the expected answer. But the question can also be understood as asking about my status in the family, and in that context there's nothing wrong with "I'm an only child in the/my family". There are many examples of this "an only child" on the internet from people who, in the context, I have no reason to believe are not native English speakers. Here are a few:

    “He’s a great kid,” Wilson said. “I mean, my kids absolutely love the guy. For being a 22-year-old, not being married and being an only child in his family, he’s fantastic with kids. My son loves him, he was shooting basketball in the back with him. (source: blogs.ajc.com)

    Jerremy Bernard Orbach was born in Bronx, New York, USA on October 20th 1935. He is an only child in his family whose father, Leon, worked as vaudevillian actor, while his mother, Emily, was a radio singer. (source: aceshowbiz.com)

    Betty had been an only child in her family. Her father had passed away not many years after she had lost her husband. It also seemed that no one in the church she attended took much interest in helping her. (source: nymministries.org [pdf file])

    I'm interested into going to a UW school possibly, and am beyond excited to begin my college process of finding the right college to suit me as both a player, and more importantly a student. I'm an only child in my family and will hopefully qualify for different types of finanical aid for college. (source: ncsasports.org)

    Being a male raised in the piney woods of North East Texas, I thought that the way to deal with grief was to resist feeling anything, and so, when faced with the loss of my parents (and given that I was an only child in my family), I shut down and tried to feel nothing. (source: billcphd.com)

    ... and she also has concerns about the fact that I am an only child in my family taking care of an elderly 78 year-old mother who had a brain aneurysm a few years back. (source: healthboards.com)

    Ten Ways You Know That You Are An Only Child In Your Family (source: gmwilliams.hubpages.com)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Hi EM. I'd see all of those as incorrect. In every case the "in my/your family" is superfluous and, for the reason I gave, ungrammatical. As soon as the family is defined (the family, my family) there can only be one only child. I've no problem with "an only child in a family" if the context is right. I can also accept a conditional sentence "If there's an only child in the family, the parents may be over-protective". "The family" there represents a generic family, not a specific family.

    Added:
    Ten Ways You Know That You Are An Only Child In Your Family? That many - why not just count how many siblings you have?
     
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    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Nice research above, Enquiring Mind. I have to say, though, that I still find the phrases completely redundant… akin to referring to your fingers on your right hand and Christmas in December. It’s not necessarily wrong (in my book at least) …just linguistic clutter. “Do you have any siblings?”…”No, I’m an only child.” That would suffice.

    Bic.
     

    amatriciana

    Senior Member
    English - UK and US
    I tend to agree with Enquiring Mind's post #7. As far as I can see, neither "I am the only child" nor "I am the only child in the family" necessarily implies "I am an only child." I could be the only child in the family simply because I am 10 years old while my siblings are a good 20 years older. Comes down to the silent difference between "{the only} child" and "the {only child}", and only the context can decide for us which one is meant.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Nice research above, Enquiring Mind. I have to say, though, that I still find the phrases completely redundant… akin to referring to your fingers on your right hand and Christmas in December. It’s not necessarily wrong (in my book at least) …just linguistic clutter. “Do you have any siblings?”…”No, I’m an only child.” That would suffice.

    Bic.
    The research is just another demonstration that you can find poor English on the internet. I never said that "I am an only child" has any specific meaning - that is, it does not specifically mean a child with no siblings or a child with only adult siblings. My point is that the use of the article is independent of the specific meaning. "I am an only child in the family" is grammatically wrong. There can be only one only child in a family, whatever type of only child that might be. If we allow "I am an only child in the family" we are using the article in a way which in all other circumstances allows for there being another only child. The phrase "only child" is not grammatically unique. How then can it have different grammar from all other countable nouns?
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    I can see that Andy is a native speaker, but just as an incidental note, the use of articles is one of the main problems for speakers of languages that don't have articles, and sometimes they think that in a given context, only one article can apply. I come across this language-teaching issue on a daily basis out here. There are many semantic contexts in which more than one option can apply, e.g. The dog is a four-legged animal :tick:, a dog is a four-legged animal :tick:, dogs are four-legged animals :tick:, and the use of "a" in the (very limited) context asked about in the original post can be justified in the "one of a group" sense as described in point 2 here (source: learnenglish.britishcouncil.org).

    The dilemma here is that there are two competing justifications: (i) there is only one only child in my family, so this fits one of the justifications for the definite article, and (ii) I am one of a group of people called "only children (in families)", so this fits one of the justifications for the indefinite article. Which justification "trumps" (for a bridge player) or "carries greater weight/importance/clout than" the other? That's quite a subjective decision which may be influenced by a number of different factors.
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    An only child has no siblings. A family could have several children, but if it has an only child, there is only one child. A family can have {only} {one} {only child}.
     

    Ivan_I

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Almost got it. We have two different only(s) here, I suspect. Do you think you could use synonyms to make it completely clear for me? (Sorry, if I am asking too much)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    My pleasure. :) How about:
    A family can have just one {only child}.
    A family can have no more than one {only child}.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Andy has given you synonyms "just" and "no more than" for the first "only".
    If you want a synonym for the second "only", try "siblingless". This word probably doesn't exist, but if it did, it would be obvious what it meant.

    A family can have at most one siblingless child because as soon as a family has two or more children, each of them will have at least one sibling: none of them will be siblingless: None of them will be "an only child".

    Notice that the first "only" is an adverb, the second is an adjective.
     
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