The only time one of my children had been ill was like that.

She was comparing the way one of her children had been ill to another child when she says like that as a reference to her own past experience.

I'm not sure whether she means that only one of her children had been ill before, or that more than one of them had been ill before as it is worded very loosely and could be interpreted in a few different ways. Is she stating that she has more than one child or that more than one of her children has been ill before when she says 'one of my children'?
What do you think her meaning was?

  • like that is broad, what's the context? Who spoke in which scenario? – Maulik V May 20 '14 at 7:00
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    @MaulikV: I'm not sure the context of 'like that' is relevant to the interpretation of The only time one of my children had been ill :) – oerkelens May 20 '14 at 7:03
  • @oerkelens It's broad. Without knowing the story/context, it could be the illness itself. I could be talking about a serious disease. that could be anything if you think from every possible situation. – Maulik V May 20 '14 at 7:08
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    @MaulikV Yes, but how does that change anything to the meaning of the part that the question is about? – oerkelens May 20 '14 at 7:09

The fact that she states one of my children means that she has more than one child.

It would take some very original interpretation of the sentence to read it as if her other child or children have also been ill, but she is referring to the one time this specific child was ill. One of my children here refers to any of the children.

So the most likely reading is that there has been one instance where a child of hers has been ill - and that was like the situation she described.

If her other child or children have also been ill, but not "like that", she would have specified which child she was talking about:

The only time my oldest son had been ill was like that.

In that case, a younger son may have been ill as well, but it was not "like that" - or at least not so much 'like that' that the writer feel it should be mentioned.

  • @EsotericScreenName: I agree that is says nothing about other sons having been ill or not, which is exactly what I wrote: may have been ill (they may just as well never have been ill). However, younger sons having been ill and that being like 'that' or anything is completely irrelevant if the sentence is phrased like that, which is exactly the point I was trying to make. Your points 1, 2, 3 I agree with, yet I do not see where I contradict that interpretation? – oerkelens May 20 '14 at 7:01
  • @EsotericScreenName: You seem to be ignoring the fact that I only gave the alternative sentence for the situation where the original sentence would not do because the facts would contradict the idea that only one child has ever been ill. I did not imply anywhere anything about any chances of another child's illness as following directly from my alternative phrasing. I only stated that if another child would have been ill, but not 'like that', the alternative phrasing would be correct, whereas the original phrasing would be wrong. – oerkelens May 20 '14 at 7:07
  • @EsotericScreenName: you really seem to be reading way too much in my alternative phrasing. I do not make any statements about the woman's life, I do not know her. I am just trying to explain to the OP how the sentence would have been phrased IF there would have been another ill child. I never stated that my sentence means anything about any illness of other children, I just gave an alternative phrasing for some possible different scenario. That there may be other true scenario's which could be described by the alternative phrase, sure. It has little relevance to this question though. – oerkelens May 20 '14 at 7:46
  • @CoolHandLouis thanks, that made things clearer for me. Oerkelens, I'm still not making myself clear; I'm talking about the meta-content here, not the actual semantics of your example, but it's totally irrelevant to the question and I'm not communicating well, so I don't think it's worth belaboring things further. – Esoteric Screen Name May 20 '14 at 7:51

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