The sentence 'Claire is John's wife' could it be changed either in:

  • Claire is the wife of John
  • Claire is wife of John

If you answer could you please also tell me why that is so, or quote some grammar reference? I would appreciate that very much as I think my students will ask me this difficult question and will want to know the details.

  • 1
    It can be inverted but it does need the definite article 'the'. It would also be possible to say 'Claire is a wife of John if John was permitted more than one wife. More common would be 'Claire is _a_child of Jean' of Jean if Jean is Claire's mother, even if Jean has no other children.
    – BoldBen
    Mar 24, 2018 at 20:44
  • Beniamino Cogoi please recognise that articles, including the and a - are vital in English. For that reason please take your Question somewhere such as English Language Learners… Mar 24, 2018 at 22:23
  • 1
    Another grammatical option is "Claire is wife to John" although this probably sees little use.
    – Jim
    Mar 24, 2018 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


Wife is a countable noun (in this context), and thus requires a determiner. In "Claire is John's wife", the genitive/possessive John's is the determiner. If John has only one wife, and can only have one wife, then you would use the definite article. This is because the simple fact of being 'wife' to John means she is unique.

Claire is the wife of John.

However, if we use wife in the sense of being a role, as in the last sentence of the above paragraph, it no longer requires an article in all contexts:

I now pronounce you man and wife.
Claire is wife to John.
I never learned how to behave as wife and mother.

This sort of use is now a little old-fashioned, though.

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