Post by email@example.com Post by Peter T. Daniels Post by firstname.lastname@example.org Post by CDB Post by email@example.com Post by Peter Moylan Post by firstname.lastname@example.org Post by email@example.com
Here is a sentence from a very interesting book, which
The departure of his half brother left Adolf the
principal butt of their father's frustrations.
Thanks in advance for any help!
As others have said, "their father" refers to Adolph and
his half-brother's father, but the construction is
awkward, as "their" is inconsistent with the preceding
syntax. More coherent would have been e.g. "The departure
of his half brother left Adolf the principal butt for the
frustrations of the two lads' father", but then the
sentence is a bit stodgy - hence maybe the choice of
"their" as a lesser evil.
A much lesser evil, because there is nothing wrong with
"their" in the original sentence.
Yes, there is, as Adolph and his half brother are not
mentioned "collectively" in the sentence to justify a plural
pronoun, and it feels as though "their" could refer to two
other people. The OP couldn't make sense of the sentence,
BTW, which shows that it's not really "perfectly clear" and
the reader is madeto do some deduction to understand whom
"their" refers to rather than just rely on a coherent
The OP's difficulties with the usage are those of a non-native,
as yours are.
I've had no difficulties understanding what that sentence meant.
What I pointed out as odd is not specific to English and the
exact same sloppy wording can be (and is) used in French.
There is nothing "sloppy" about the wording in English. Whether it
is "sloppy" in French is of no relevance whatsoever to English.
Wrong! The basics of syntax, such as what antecedent an anaphorical
pronoun is suppposed to have in a given sentence, are obviously the
What is different is the overall language background: things like how
often such a construct is used, its frequency of use by respected
writers, and so on. Such details obviously differ between languages.
As far as I can recall, every native speaker of English in this thread
found the subject sentence perfectly normal, respectable, and easy to
understand. You're the only one to call it sloppy. Whether it is
difficult for non-native speakers is a separate question that does not
come into a sloppiness judgement.
Peter Moylan http://www.pmoylan.org
Newcastle, NSW, Australia