Mary has two children whose names are John and Tom.

One language teaching page has the sentence above and says it means Mary has more than two children. But it doesn't feel right. I think it means Mary has two children and they are John and Tom.

I have a son who is interested in music.

So following the same logic does the second sentence mean i have more than one son?

Could anyone please help me?

  • 1
    It's good form to quote the exact words from an external source, and it's even better to cite the name of the book and its author. A "teaching" page is too generic, it tells us practically nothing. Please cite the name of the book, and quote in full the explanation given in the book, you might have misunderstood the page's explanation.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 20 '16 at 6:04

Mary has two children whose names are John and Tom.

The most likely conclusion is that Mary has two children and only two children. It's possible she has more, but if that is the case we would say:

Of Mary's children, two are named John and Tom.

This implies Mary has a number of children, but at the moment we are most concerned with these two.

I have a son who is interested in music.

This implies nothing about the number of children you have. It only says that, of your (one or more) children, one is interested in music.


If that's exactly what your text says, it's wrong.

Mary has two children whose names are John and Tom.

This may refer to a situation in which Mary has more than those two children, and that may be evident in context; but by itself the sentence does not entail (require) that interpretation. For instance:

A: Hey, I've found a couple of identical backpacks with the names 'John' and 'Tom' written inside. Do any of our school's mothers have children named John and Tom?

B: Well, there's Mary. She has thirteen children, and I'm pretty sure she has two whose names are John and Tom.

Your second sentence, "I have a son who is interested in music", is also ambiguous: it might be used of either an only son or one of many sons.

A restrictive relative clause is just like any other adjectival—a frank adjective like red for instance. If you say "I have a red sock", this does not imply that you have no other socks.

Formally, an adjectival restricts the reference of the noun it modifies to specific members of the class which the noun designates: it informs your hearer that you are not talking about just any sock or child or son but about particular entities of that class. But by itself it neither entails nor implies anything about other members of the class.

(Note, by the way, that a non-restrictive relative clause is not an adjectival: it doesn't modify the noun it describes, but asserts a new predication about it.)

  • If I say "I have a son, who is interested in music", I would imply that any son is interested in music, right? Because the extra information "who is interested in music" is added into "a son".
    – vincentlin
    Oct 20 '16 at 1:33
  • 1
    @vincentlin You aren't talking about just any son of yours, only about a particular son who has an interest in music. Oct 20 '16 at 2:00
  • Doesn't a non restrictive clause add information into a noun?? A comma was added.
    – vincentlin
    Oct 20 '16 at 2:08
  • Because I am confused about nonrestrictive adjective clauses. Would you please give me some ideas about them???
    – vincentlin
    Oct 20 '16 at 2:12
  • @vincentlin If you use a non-restrictive relative--"I have a son, who is interested in music"--you are uttering two predications: "I have a son. He is interested in music." If you use a restrictive relative--"I have a son who is interested in music" you are uttering one predication--"I have a musically interested son". (That's awkward English--that's why we use relatives instead.) Oct 20 '16 at 2:21

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