30

To me, it sounds selfish to only say "My child" since he or she has two parents and not just me.

I'm struggling with this at work, where we have people of many nationalities, but there's no one that I can ask who has English as their mother tongue.

  • 4
    Interestingly, this convention has changed over the centuries. Jane Austen regularly has her characters use the singular possessive about relatives even when they're speaking to someone with whom they "share" that relative. For example, the Bennett sisters in Pride and Prejudice routinely refer to "my aunt" or "my uncle" or even "my father" when speaking to one another, where nowadays that would seem very strange. – 1006a Jun 26 '18 at 17:56
  • 29
    There is a running joke in English that when a child is misbehaved, they're "your child", when they're being a good child, they're "our child" or "my child". – AJFaraday Jun 27 '18 at 8:15
  • 5
    @AJFaraday Not just in English either. I've heard it in multiple NW European languages used the same way. – Mast Jun 27 '18 at 13:32
  • 27
    In my opinion (which isn't necessarily only mine) you are overthinking this or going overboard to be politically correct. "My child" is not the same as "A child who is only mine". "My team" is (necessarily!) not only mine, "my opinion" does not mean the opinion which is only mine, my preferences, my way, my train is arriving, my flight is delayed, etc. – SantiBailors Jun 27 '18 at 14:49
  • 1
71

If a woman said to a male colleague, "Our child is good at music," the male colleague might humorously pretend to think he was being told he was the father of the child. It is perfectly normal, and not considered selfish, to say "my child" - particularly when speaking to someone who does not know the child's other parent, or in the absence of the other parent.

One would probably say "our child" when talking about aspects of parenting that one shares with the other parent, e.g. "My wife and I do not let our child play in the street." Also, it might be considered stiff or formal to refer to the child as "my son/daughter" rather than by name - particularly when speaking to someone who has met the child, or someone with whom you have a more than cursory acquaintance.

Outside of certain specific contexts, you would speak of "my child" and not "our child". That is, in general, we use the singular possessive adjective 'my', when talking about relationships: my child, son, daughter, father, sister, brother, aunt, etc. Even though I share a father with my sister, I would only call him 'our father' in the specific context involving my sister, e.g. my sister and I visit our father every Sunday.

  • 29
    "Our" would also be used (almost exclusively) in a situation when both parents are on one side of the conversation speaking to another person. If my wife and I were talking to a friend, either of us would more likely say "our [son/daughter]..." – Doktor J Jun 27 '18 at 11:14
  • 2
    I don't think many people would use the word 'child' to talk about their children. I have never experienced anyone using it, they always say 'son' or 'daugther' (or 'kids' if they are multiples and mixed). – Aganju Jun 27 '18 at 13:53
  • 3
    I might very well talk about "my child" in a context where their gender is not relevant, to someone who does not know the child. – Michael Harvey Jun 27 '18 at 18:45
  • 4
    I can't take this claim seriously "the male colleague might think he was being told he was the father of the child" – Octopus Jun 27 '18 at 19:30
  • 1
    @Octopus for "male colleague" read "milkman"? – alephzero Jun 29 '18 at 10:05
44

If the parent who shares in the "ownership" of the child is not present or not a subject of your conversation, then saying only "my child" is not selfish or rude.

However, if the other parent is a subject of the conversation, then saying "my child" may be misunderstood as only your child and perhaps the other parent is not the biological parent.

My wife and I are very proud. My child is doing well in school.
(excluding the wife in the "ownership" does sound strange there)

If the other parent is present during your conversation with others then it can sound selfish, rude or just neglectful.

Friend: How is the family?
Husband: Good. My child is doing well in school.
Wife: Oh, your child? Not mine?

So you are right to wonder about this and even native English speakers create awkward situations like this by mistake. In the situation above, it is normal for everyone to laugh when it is pointed out like the wife did.

It even happens among siblings when talking about parents they share.

Brother: My mom says dinner is ready.
Sister: Your mom? She's my mom too!

  • 31
    Your examples remind me that my wife used to joke that if our children misbehaved, she would tell people, "They're my husband's children from his first marriage." (It would have been true: I have only married once.) – David K Jun 26 '18 at 19:44
  • 7
    @DavidK Related: If your wife asks "Do you know what your child did?" you can rest assured it wasn't good, while either "our" or "my" in the same place is likely to be something praiseworthy, if not prize-worthy. – Monty Harder Jun 27 '18 at 19:13
  • 2
    "My mom says dinner is ready". You'd only hear "my mom" in a context where other people are present. Brother speaking to sister would say "Mom says dinner is ready". (This usually only applies to talk about parents and grandparents.) – Alan Baljeu Jun 28 '18 at 21:12
  • 1
    @AlanBaljeu That is the point. Even Native English speakers will sometimes make the mistake of using a possessive pronoun when speaking to someone who shares in the 'possession'. And this causes an awkward situation. The brother would normally just say "Mom", but without thinking we can make that slip and upset the other person without meaning to. Most of the time it is laughed off and forgiven, but it happens. Or it can be done on purpose for humor as DavidK's perfect example shows above. – Jay A. Little Jun 29 '18 at 9:08
18

Consider other things where you share "ownership". Like, your country. Typically, if I was talking to another American, I would say "our country". But if I was talking to a German, I would say "my country".

In general, you say "our" when you are speaking to someone who shares ownership, or when such a person is being talked about. You say "my" when you are speaking to and about people who do not share ownership.

Note that it's routine to use "my" with things that have shared ownership in such a context. I routinely say "my city" even though thousands of other people live here, as long as I am not talking to one of those people.

2

“My son/daughter” or “Our son/daughter”?

To me, it sounds selfish to only say "My child" since he or she has two parents and not just me.

The my/our distinction is made in reference to the owners and not the object. If you and your wife own a car or a house and you say "my car" or "my house" it doesn't mean you are planning a theft or divorce.

People are to infer, even in the event of death or emancipation, that the child has two biological parents; different languages do not do this differently; though certain cultures may speak of this differently - IE: The son is the man's son.

To say "our" you must introduce the other subject:

You, a man, are talking to Joe, also a man; and would you say:

  • "I took our daughter fishing." - You and Joe have a daughter.

  • "I took my daughter fishing." - You're prepared for Joe to question how you came to bare children ...

  • "My wife and I went on vacation, I took our daughter fishing." - Joe is miserable because you took his daughter and a woman on vacation but didn't bring him.

  • "I went on vacation, and I took my daughter." - Joe's going to wonder why he didn't get to go ...

You see, it's my when you leave out the others whom are rightfully involved and our when the others are mentioned and their context remains in scope.

Example of using a single person but maintaining scope for multiple persons:

#1 - Everyone at our hobby club pitched in money to purchase a van for the group, but individuals may borrow it if they pay for the gas. On Wednesday Peter used it but left it at James' house. James doesn't drive and the others want the vehicle returned to the clubhouse. Joe, will you come with me to get our vehicle. [That doesn't mean that Joe is invited to join the club, or share ownership of the vehicle - the "our" is the club membership; despite probably not being fully enumerated].

#2 - I was driving my van down the street and ran over a watermelon. Joe, will you come to the car wash with me to get my vehicle washed? I need to return it clean so the others won't be angry and not want me to use our vehicle. [Notice that I can go from "my" to "our" after mentioning the others.].

2

Basically, if you say "we" or "our", you are bringing the other people in that "we" or "our" into the conversation.

So if you have a child with another parent, and you are talking about the child, if you say "our child" that automatically introduces the other parent into the conversation. If they're who you're talking to, that's natural. If you are talking to the third party but the other parent was already part of the conversation, it will be natural too (like "My husband and I like to go hiking with our children"). On the other hand if you are talking to a third party, and you haven't mentioned the other parent so far ("I have to go pick up our child this afternoon"), it could be confusing. As others pointed out, the third party might think they must be the other parent, or wonder why you're bringing your co-parent into the conversation when they're not really relevant to the subject at hand. It might sound a bit like you don't see yourself as an individual at all, but as indivisible from your co-parent.

Really this is a special case of the general one. If you're talking to someone and you say "I ate our cake today", that person will be very confused as to who "our" is referring to. Do you share a cake with that person? Does it belong to a group of people you are both in? Or a group that only you're in? and in either case which group would that be?

It so happens that with children, they typically have two parents and so it's easy to guess what "our" refers to. You could say the same of things that often belong to a family, like "our car" or "our house". But there is still a potential ambiguity, which makes it more confusing to use if the people included in "our" aren't already part of the conversation.

0

When you say to someone: "You are good". Does that mean all people are bad except this person? Of course, no.

Same thing with "My child". It implies only one idea because it tells us that this is your son and this might be someone else's son as well. It doesn't mean that this is only yours or your son belongs to no one except you.

This sentence tells us about the relation between you and this son. It says nothing about the relation between your son and others. It requires more words and sentence to describe any other relationships.

One more thing, no matter how you say it, some people will find it offensive. So don't pay attention to people who put words in your mouth. Some people deduce or imply or guess new ideas of what you said. And they don't put into consideration that their deduction might be wrong.

For example, If you said that you don't like that woman, maybe feminists will judge you that you're a racist and you don't respect women rights...etc. Maybe you like all women except this one only but the deduction/guessing of ideas is the main cause of judgment.

Finally, the sentence "Our son" indicates that both parents are present because of the pronoun "Our". So exaggeration of understanding simple sentences leads to using more complex sentence that may change the meaning or imply new ideas like "Our" as I mentioned above. So using those complex sentences will lead to using a more complex sentences and a lot of explanations to express simple ideas. It's better to take things easy and start thinking of real business or something more useful instead of thinking about these unquestionable topics (No offense).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.