Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I came across an odd-looking usage in the paper today...

The wife of President Assad listens to her husband yesterday with her two younger children

The sentence suggests that she has some other children somewhere, as otherwise it would just have referred to "her children". But if there are three or more children, ought not the two on show be the youngest? But the youngest should only be one child; more than one can't be the youngest? Or are they younger because they are a group, and there may only be one other?

Can anyone help me out with this?

share|improve this question
    
It is possible that the two children have a sibling who is younger and another who is older than them. And this sentence seems to suggest that. –  BST Jan 12 '12 at 12:16
    
But according to Wikipedia, Assad has three children. –  BST Jan 12 '12 at 12:21
    
To me, younger is preferable to youngest, not least because it seems an odd choice to define 2/3 of a group with a superlative. The oldest child is the only one who isn't younger than any other child -- thus, younger children is quite clear. –  onomatomaniak Jan 12 '12 at 14:50
    
    
@MetaEd, I don't think they are quite the same; two specific instances of a more general problem. I admit I didn't find that question when searching. –  Brian Hooper Jan 12 '12 at 16:51
add comment

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The two children are members of a group and the comparative or superlative relates to that group.

Expressions like the ten best universities or the cleverer children in the class are quite common and I don't think require further explanation.

As for her two younger children, both forms are grammatically acceptable but I prefer her two youngest children because it is clear that the superlative implies comparison to the entire set. Use of the comparative, on the other hand, brings some confusion, because there is some ambiguity as to whether there exists a younger child than the two present, although I would probably assume this is not the case. We also have to disregard a potential comparison with the woman herself, which would be a pleonasm.

share|improve this answer
    
You have post your answer while I was writing mine so I haven't read it. BUT I believe we could say ten best universities because there are different types of universities. If you are interested in business Harvard Business School will be the best for you, but if you are in Computer Science MIT will be the best for you. We can also say ten best universities because there is a word about numbers like ten. When I hear the two youngest children that means for me that there are a lot more children, but these particular one are the youngest. –  speedyGonzales Jan 12 '12 at 13:29
2  
I think the use of younger here is very confusing. Compare with her younger brothers, which implicitly compares the youth of the brothers to her own. Here obviously, if the comparison to her own age was made, it would be a pleonasm. Still the comparative needs to compare to something, and what it compares to here is not explicit. The use of superlative however implies a comparison to the entire possible set. –  Benjamin Jan 12 '12 at 13:30
    
@speedyGonzales: the two youngest children means two from the beginning of that order, the entire set could be 3 or more. The youngest children means all children except the oldest ones, the number of the total set then is unknown. –  Benjamin Jan 12 '12 at 13:35
    
@Benjamin, yes you are right but you are speaking going out of language point of view. I am going out of Math point of view. In math we can say countable infinite. Can you count an infinite numbers, I can't but I can count them obviously using other approach then counting. –  speedyGonzales Jan 12 '12 at 13:39
    
@Benjamin Yes definitely, that is exactly what I have tried to say, that the two youngest and the two younger change the number of the children and hence the situation. Also look at the observation -ten best universities means ten out of all the best universities, while ten best Math Universities means something different and you can say Best Math University, but not best university because it depends on different criterias. This guys has 3 children so here the right choice is the two younger one. –  speedyGonzales Jan 12 '12 at 13:42
show 3 more comments

Well, lets suppose you have 3 kids- 13, 9 and 7 years old. Then 7 years old is the youngest child, 13 years old is the oldest child, 13 and 9 years old are the two older children and 7 and 9 years old are the two younger children. This is not question about language but rather a question about sets to me. When you are talking about the youngest or the oldest, that should be only one of that kind. The answer that makes sense here is younger.

share|improve this answer
add comment

'...two younger children' doesn't at all sound odd to me.

As you guessed it almost right, (more than one can't be the youngest?), in fact, '...two youngest children': that would sound odd.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Yes, there can be more than one children be the youngest. As you already mentioned if you take them as a group of children. For example, in school.

I want to add an additionally example: Twins

What's about twins? Of course, one of them is older, but just a few minutes. You rarely take a difference between them, when talking about their age. In this case you also would say 'the two youngest children'.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.