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Before you read on, I just want to let you know that this question is one that relates to the balance of logic and grammar.

So I know that are multiple ways to describe a first-cousin relationship. I have heard people say 'We share the same grandparents'/'He/she is the child of my aunt/uncle.'or even just 'we are first cousins'.

However, I came across an interesting situation when I tried to rephrase'One of my parents and one of his/her parents are siblings.' (Which I find wordy and repetitive) whilst still maintaining the focus on parents. When I tried rewording it like this :

  • One of our parents are siblings. (Don't even think this is grammatically correct as the verb doesn't agree with the subject).

It turned out to be ambiguous, as though I am talking about only ONE parent instead of ONE PARENT ON BOTH SIDES. If I change that to:

  • One of both of our parents are siblings.

It sounds very awkward and equally unclear. I remember coming across a English grammar article a long time ago describing a similar case, but have long forgot if there is a proper term for this kind of ambiguity. To further elaborate on my question, to say:

  • Both of our parents are siblings.

Would also be open to more than one interpretations. What about:

  • One parents from each side are siblings (or should I say "is siblings")

Overall, in the case that there are two subjects/parties involved (my cousin and I) and more than two objects (4 parents total, 2 each), how can I make myself clear?

Many thanks for your answers.

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  • I'm not sure if this might sound a bit too technical, but it's quite possible to use: We are first cousins. (for your case: "One of our parents are siblings.") Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 8:27
  • Well I am really just using first cousins as an example. The ambiguity is what I am trying to clear.
    – JUNCINATOR
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 8:50
  • To keep it simple you could just say "Two of our parents are siblings." You can't use one because you are talking about two people.
    – user3169
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 20:57
  • Thanks for the suggestion but I still find it somewhat vague. It doesn't specify that it's one parents from each side, and can even allows the interpretation that my cousin and I each have more than 2 parents.
    – JUNCINATOR
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 23:05

1 Answer 1

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In my opinion, the ambiguity only exists because you're trying to use non-specific terminology where most people wouldn't in a real life conversation. The ambiguity exists in part because an ambiguous term (parent) is used to begin with.

In conversation, it's possible to be more specific without ending up with a convoluted sentence. For example:

Our mothers are siblings.

Our fathers are siblings.

My father and his mother are siblings.

My mother and his father are siblings.

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    Thanks for the alternatives. I would very much appreciate it if you can tell me whether or not it is possible to form an unambiguous sentence using a similar construction I did. For instance, is the sentence 'One each of our parents are siblings.' as suggested by CinCout a clear and grammatical sentence? The reason being that what if I don't know which parent of person A is related to which parent of person B? In that case I can't really use specific terminology.
    – JUNCINATOR
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 11:20
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    Is there a reason you're using the word "both" in these examples? It sounds completely out of place to my ear- I think "Our mothers are siblings." is better. Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 23:53
  • @JUNCINATOR - I would probably say one of each of our parents are siblings.
    – mike
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 1:45
  • @user34258 - I guess that's one of the nuances between different regions. Where I'm from, both is often used in constructions such as this and sounds natural to me. But you are correct - It's redundant to the example, so I will remove it.
    – mike
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 1:47

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