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I read a story titled 'she's both of our daughters'. In this story, when the adopted daughter meets her biological mother, she says to her birth mother "I’m both of your daughters".

In a way, I could sense that the use of plural form 'daughters' means 'the biological mother has a daughter, which is me. The adoptive mother has a daughter, which is also me. So I play a role as both their daughters.'

But since the subject 'I' is singular, I still feel compelled to use the singular form 'daughter' here. So could the singular form be used here? Or is the plural form the only right choice?

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  • You have a point. But you want to retitle a book? Mar 1 at 15:28
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    It's illogical, but people do say things like that 'off the cuff'. If she had planned it in advance she would probably have said "I'm the daughter of both of you". Mar 1 at 15:48
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    While "I'm the daughter of both of you" is more prescriptively grammatical, "I’m both of your daughters" is a much less awkward phrasing to me. I will add that "I’m both of your daughter" seems much worse than the other two because of the disagreement with both.
    – Tbw
    Mar 1 at 17:48
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    @Tbw Interesting. My feeling is the exact opposite: “I’m the daughter of both of you” is perfectly natural to me, and “I’m both of your daughter” is only slightly awkward. I would probably not even blink at “I’m both of you’s daughter” in speech (though I’m pretty sure I would in writing). But “I’m both of your daughters” is complete nonsense to me, far worse than any of the other options. It’s fully as bad as “I’m your daughters”. It’s an explicit statement that the person is multiple people. Mar 2 at 11:50
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    @Yunus Yes, you can. “I’m the daughter of you both” is perfectly fine. Mar 2 at 11:50

2 Answers 2

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Short answers: Yes, this is not an ideal usage. I would advise you not to take it as a model. But it's also reasonable and not a big problem since the meaning is clear. Also, another short answer: As an English learner, don't be too concerned when you see nonstandard usages, especially in conversation or non-scholarly works. When you see something you don't understand in more academic writing, dig deeper there.

Longer answer: Possessives and plurals often mix very awkwardly. We often face this when something belongs to two people who need to be named separately. For instance, I might go to "my dance class." No problem. But what if my wife and I sign up for lessons together? Now I need to go to "my wife and... I's dance class?" No, "I's" is not a thing. "My wife and my dance class?" No, now it sounds like I'm going to two things, a class and a wife. "The dance class of my wife and me?" That just sounds silly.

Usually the only good solution is to reorder the sentence to split up this plural and possessive that aren't getting along and put some space between them, or eliminate the need for one of them entirely. "I need to go to the dance class that my wife and I signed up for," or better yet, "I need to go meet my wife at our dance class."

But note, reordering a sentence can change the way it feels. The speaker in the story is responding to "I think of you as my own." There is a directness and an emotive impact in the succinct "I'm yours." The speaker wanted to preserve that syntax, and expanded it to "I'm both of yours." (She would have been fine to stop there, but unfortunately also wanted to talk about exactly what kind of relationship it was and so had to throw in "daughter," at which point she had limited her syntactic options and had to end with "your daughters.") But while grammatically more pleasing, "I'm daughter to both of you" is a much less intimate tone.

One other note: Appearing in the story as a piece of dialog, the odd word choice is easier to overlook since we know people blurt odd things in the moment. As a title it's more arresting—but note, often in publications the author of a piece does not write its headline; that's done by an editor or (in the old days of big newspapers) a full-time headline writer.

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    Good answer overall, but there's noting that complicated about "my wife's and my dance class". Commonly mishandled, yes—without a clear answer, no. Mar 1 at 18:47
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    @the-baby-is-you: Speak for yourself! I find "my wife's and my dance class" very unnatural, and not at all "a clear answer".
    – ruakh
    Mar 1 at 22:29
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    I'm not convinced the meaning is clear. Unless the author is deliberately describing the daughter as more than one person (multiple personalities?) then it's jarringly wrong to many native English speakers (UK at least). But it's worth noting that Authors occasionally use ambiguous phases or even totally incorrect syntax in titles for books, articles, adverts, etc. It can be a deliberate hook to catch readers and make them read more. Mar 1 at 23:59
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    “my wife and I’s dance class” sounds perfectly natural and appropriate to my ear (native English speaker, northeast US).
    – KRyan
    Mar 2 at 1:18
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    Weighing in on the "my wife and ____" issue: Note, I've never claimed that any of the options are wrong. But while I acknowledge that many of them happen, personally they all feel uncomfortable and I try to reword to avoid them. (I realize that I created a specially problematic one by nesting multiple possessives with "my wife." "The dance class belongs to me, and to the wife which also belongs to me.") Meanwhile @fectin yes, I considered getting into the philosophical territory in which one could argue that the speaker is two daughters, but skipped it since it wasn't her intent. Mar 2 at 14:58
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I don't see a problem with it. She is basically saying:

I am [two things]

That is:

I am the daughter of my birth mother, and the daughter of my biological mother.

This is like the following:

I am hot and bothered.
I am tired and emotional.
I am your lord and saviour.
I am both a teacher and a student.
I am a bundle of nerves.

Just because "I" is singular doesn't mean that the thing you are has to be singular.

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  • Your examples with "teacher", "student", and "Lord", "saviour" are all singular. The protagonist doesn't say "I am a daughter and a daughter (of yours)"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 2 at 14:05
  • We can have more than one role or jobs so I can be a teacher, a writer, a scientist but not I am both your teachers
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 2 at 14:14
  • @Mari-LouA Why not? If you teach both physics and mathematics and I attend both lessons with you as a teacher, you are both my physics teacher and my mathematics teacher. When there are no other teachers, you are both (of) my teachers. I can identify you through either role, so there are actually two teachers I can talk about, just not distinct as a person. The same way if I know only that there are two mothers, each having a daughter, I may not know if the daughter is shared but that does not mean I cannot address them collectively, as "(both) their daughters".
    – IS4
    Mar 2 at 16:54
  • Would you really expect a person to say "I am your teachers” because that person teaches two separate subjects? No, you expect that teacher (one person) to say I teach both physics and mathematics (i.e. two subjects). One daughter = one person = She is their daughter*, and not their daughters.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 2 at 17:32
  • I don't know about that. If she says "I am your daughter" then the mothers might both ask "well, you are the daughter of which of us?". Since there are two mothers, the daughter therefore says "I am [both of] your daughters." Now it is clear they both have her for a daughter. I suppose if a long-lost daughter came home, she might say to her mother and father, "Hi! I am your daughter!" - but the context is different here. It is unusual for a person to have two mothers, so the use of both of your daughters is emphasizing that. Mar 2 at 22:13

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