in-law problem!

navi

Banned
armenian
I guess "my brother and sister-in-law" would normally mean "my brother and his wife", but cannot that have other meanings (eg. "the brother and sister of my spouse")?

When I say "my father and mother-in-law" I generally mean "the parents of my spouse" but cannot that also mean "my own father and the mother of my spouse". ?

Again, when I say "my father and my mother-in-law" that would most probably mean "my father and the mother of my spouse", but can't it also mean "the parents of my spouse"?
 
  • timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I guess "my brother and sister-in-law" would normally mean "my brother and his wife", but cannot that have other meanings (eg. "the brother and sister of my spouse")?

    When I say "my father and mother-in-law" I generally mean "the parents of my spouse" but cannot that also mean "my own father and the mother of my spouse". ?

    Again, when I say "my father and my mother-in-law" that would most probably mean "my father and the mother of my spouse", but can't it also mean "the parents of my spouse"?
    Yes yes and not necessarily. For me the third one is the only one that might be truly ambiguous, although they all are potentially. In fact I'd probably think "my father and my mother-in-law meant the parents of my spouse - but perhaps that's because you'd be so much more likely to be pairing those two people than your own father and the mother of your spouse.

    Edit - on reflection I think that the interpretation of all 3 is conditioned by who you would expect paired together, nothing grammatical (and no difference made in any case by including an extra "my" before the second person, which I suspect is the crux of your question). I think you could only say something like "my brother and sister-in-law" if it really made no difference to the story or the person you're talking to whether you mean your own brother and his wife or your spouse's own brother and sister. After all these two latter people could well be expected to be paired together. If it were important that people know which you mean you'd have to specify further. I'll modify my first two yeses to probably therefore.
     
    Last edited:

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree with your assertions Navi, save the last one. "My father and my mother-in-law", in my view, would not be capable of referring to "the parents of my spouse".
    To point to them use "My 'mother and father'-in-law", or my 'in-laws' for short, the latter of which is generally used.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    The ambiguity is real. One doesn't have to pair up people to have it. My sister-in-law can be either my brother's wife or my wife's sister. Begin with that and the corresponding ambiguities for relatives other than sisters. You can then come up with all sorts of ambiguous combinations.

    Unfortunately, we can't fix that here. Some other languages have different terms for these different relationships, but this isn't the place to discuss them!

    We have to rely on the broader context*, on names, or on explanations to clarify who we mean in these situations.

    ________________________
    *My wife has no sisters but I have married brothers, so in my case "my sister-in-law" can only mean "my brother's wife." That is an example of broader context clarifying something when the words by themselves are ambiguous. I still may have to specify which of my brothers' wives I mean, or rely on another piece of context to clarify that. That, however, is inherent in using any noun that represents multiple members of a class. It would be equally true if I referred to my brother's table or my brother's hat, since they all have (at least) one of those too.
     
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