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a. I was driving around in my car with my brother.

Does that imply that I have only one brother?

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b. My sister's co-worker's husband is an engineer.

Does that imply that my sister has only one co-worker?

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c. My father's cousin's husband is a dentist.

Does that imply that my father has only one cousin?

I think from a grammatical point of view the answer to all the questions is 'yes', but in practice the answer might be 'no' because people in this particular case there is a lot of sloppiness around!

I might be wrong of course.

2 Answers 2

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In all of these the singular is only the final link in the chain, and while it specifies that there is at least one it does not necessarily imply uniqueness. It depends on the context in which it is used.

  1. If it is not important to the story which brother they were with there may be more.
  2. If you were about to say that this engineer recommended a course of action it would be a reference to his professional expertise and would be unimportant which co-worker's husband is being referred to.
  3. If you were asking for someone to fix your teeth it would not matter if there were more than one cousin.

An example of a similar construction that never implies uniqueness is "my friend's friend". Neither I nor my friend have only one friend.

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A. If you have previously referred to this specific brother, no, it does not imply you only have one, but if you have not referred to a brother, you are saying you only have one.

B. Yes, it does imply your sister only has one co-worker. I would recommend using One of my sister’s coworkers… instead.

C. Same as A, if you have referred to this before no, if you have not yes.

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