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I came across this question while taking an English grammar test on the BBC news magazine. The multiple choice question is based on the following sentence:

"I'd like to introduce you to my sister Clara, who lives in Madrid, to Benedict, my brother who doesn't, and to my only other sibling, Hilary."

Which of the following is correct?

  1. Hilary is male
  2. Hilary is female
  3. Impossible to say from the given context

As it turns out, Hilary is male. But can someone explain why? Per my thinking, it should've been impossible to say from the given context.

I say this because:

my sister Clara, who lives in Madrid

From this we know that Clara is female and she lives in Madrid

to Benedict, my brother who doesn't,

I thought this meant- Benedict is the brother who doesn't live in Madrid

And last,

and to my only other sibling, Hilary.

which doesn't specify whether Hilary is male or female. It just says- "only sibling"

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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

to Benedict, my brother who doesn't,

This is the clue. If it would have been

to Benedict, my brother, who doesn't,

Then he may have been the only brother the speaker has.

However, because there is no comma, the who doesn't is restrictive: in this case it describes an essential property of this specific brother. Since there is such a description for that specific brother, being the brother who doesn't live in Madrid, it follows there has to be another brother.

Since it is clearly stated there is only one other sibling, that sibling has to be male as well.

So not only do we know that Hilary is male, we know where he lives!

(Sorry for the earlier confusion. For more information on restrictive / non-restrictive clauses, have a look here.)

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1  
Since it is clearly stated there is only one other sibling, that sibling has to be male as well. I've read your answer several times, but I'm still as puzzled and lost as ever. –  J.R. Aug 17 at 20:39
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I disagree. This is a test question, and is therefore not speaking like a normal person, it is trying to find out a person's understand of English. 'Hilary' is both a male and female name. 'Sibling' means 'brother' or 'sister'. To my mind it's deliberately neutral so the answer should (3) Impossible to say from the given context. Otherwise why not say ".. and to my other brother Hilary." (which is what most normal people would say, specifically to remove the ambiguity). –  Mynamite Aug 17 at 23:23
    
@Mynamite why not say ... which is what most normal people would say? Because this is a test question, and is therefore not speaking like a normal person. You're right that Hilary and sibling are neutral (and deliberately so, to make the testee examine the grammar), but the gender is indeterminate only if there are no other indicators, and in this case, there are. –  Esoteric Screen Name Aug 18 at 0:48
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Thanks for taking the time to clarify. I think it's worth pointing out that this reads more like a brain teaser than something most native speakers would naturally pick up on. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who struggled with this! –  J.R. Aug 18 at 9:18
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This is definitely just a grammar trick or brainteaser, and I think most native English speakers would only infer that Hilary is a brother if they had been warned that this is a grammar puzzle. It wouldn't be safe to do so otherwise, because it's unlikely that the speaker or writer is being so picky with their grammar! –  jfhc Aug 18 at 9:59

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