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Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2023

ancestry /ˈænsɛstri/ n., pl. -tries.

1 the group of people from whom someone descended: had an ancestry of Puritan settlers. [countable, usually singular]

2 line of descent; lineage:

of Chinese ancestry. [uncountable]

= = = = = = My question:

What's the difference between "an ancestry" and "ancestries"?

An ancestry is a group of people. So, I can say "Everyone has an ancestry" and "Everyone has ancestries". The latter sounds weird. And I think the latter doesn't mean "Everyone has ancestors".

1 "Everyone has an ancestry"

2 "Everyone has ancestries"

3 "Everyone has ancestors"

Does 1 equal 2 in meaning?

Does 2 equal 3 in meaning?

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  • 1
    We wouldn't normally pluralise ancestry when referring to the ancestral background of a single person, so your #2 sounds a bit weird to me. But of course, we each have 2 parents, whose separate ancestries are part of ours, so in principle it's a credible usage. Equally obviously, the concept of every person / living organism having an unbroken lineage of progenitors is subtly different to simply referring to those progenitors as individuals, so you would choose between #1 and #3 depending on which aspect you wanted to focus on. Jun 13, 2023 at 11:23
  • ...also see this usage chart, showing that we're more likely today to say they had their ancestry in Puritan settlers rather than that they had an ancestry of Puritan settlers. Jun 13, 2023 at 11:29
  • Have you looked up "ancestor" in a dictionary? Why do you think it might mean the same as "ancestry"?
    – gotube
    Jun 13, 2023 at 16:34
  • Where did I say that "ANCESTOR" might mean "ANCESTRY"? I said that "ancestors" might mean "ancestries".
    – user1425
    Jun 13, 2023 at 17:37

1 Answer 1

3

Ancestries is an uncommon word.

Ancestry refers either to the relationship of being ancestors and descendents, in which case it is uncountable, or to the collection of ancestors of an individual or group.

So we would only talk about ancestries when we are referring to the descent of two or more different people or groups.

So your 1 and 3 are near enough the same in meaning, but 2 would be very odd: it would be saying that (for some reason) everybody had more than one descent or set of ancestors.

I can just about conceive of a person who was adopted talking about their "ancestries" - meaning their birth ancestry and their adopted ancestry (though it is not usual to talk about "adopted ancestry")' or perhaps somebody might talk about their father's ancestry and their mother's ancestry as their "ancestries" (especially if their parents came from different cultures). But both of these are very unusual ways of saying it.

Edit: the iWeb corpus has 20,832 instances of my/his/their ancestors", 3608 instances of "my/his/their ancestry", and only 23 of "my/his/their ancestries".

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