English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have a problem with this sentence:

He was one of the youngest of his siblings.

The meaning should be clear: he had many brothers and sisters, and he was one of the youngest of the lot, but the expression feels awfully awkward to me, with expression his siblings implicitly excluding the subject from the set; you're not your own sibling, so you're not one of your siblings.

Is there a better way to convey the idea without getting too muddled with details and without losing the meaning? A collective expression for all of own siblings plus self maybe?

  • Eldest of the children have children of their own, so he's not one of the youngest in the family.
  • His parents have siblings who have their children, so he's not one of the youngest in his generation.
  • "One of the youngest of his parents' children" while technically correct is awfully roundabout way to convey it.
  • He's not the youngest, so he's not just "younger than his siblings". "Younger than most of his siblings" might work but still feels somewhat awkward.
share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by MετάEd, Mahnax, Matt E. Эллен, tchrist, FumbleFingers Aug 31 '12 at 2:17

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Is "of his" necessary? Is that not implied by... "He was one of the youngest siblings." – w3d Aug 23 '12 at 14:31
@w3d: I don't know - you tell me? Feels imprecise to me (whose/what siblings?) but I just may be wrong. – SF. Aug 23 '12 at 14:36
Well, in my opinion, it is implied since you can't be someone else's sibling. If you want to compare the subject with someone else's siblings then you would have to explicitly state this. You could perhaps say, "He was one of his youngest siblings" - but again unnecessary IMO. – w3d Aug 23 '12 at 15:00
@w3d: Submit that as an answer. Your argument is quite convincing to me and so the answer satisfies the conditions. – SF. Aug 23 '12 at 15:13
up vote 3 down vote accepted

As mentioned in my comments, I believe "of his" is unnecessary since it is implied. This results in the 'less awkward' phrase:

He was one of the youngest siblings.

Since "he" can't be part of someone else's siblings, "his" siblings are implied. If you want to compare the subject with someone else's siblings then you would have to explicitly state this. You could perhaps say, "He was one of his youngest siblings" - but again unnecessary in my opinion, since you are simply reiterating the subject.

share|improve this answer
The definite NP the siblings needs a discourse antecedent. The absence of this is surely the "imprecision" that SF explained with "whose/which siblings". Yes, which siblings? You can fix this by adding *in/of his family" somewhere to allow a bridging inference. But then your shortened version is no longer shorter. – Rachel Aug 23 '12 at 19:57

What about simply "He was one of the youngest of his immediate family"?

share|improve this answer
Couldn't "immediate family" mean more than just brothers and sisters (siblings). – w3d Aug 23 '12 at 14:29
Might break if he was married and with children of his own. (that particular expression appears quite late in the life of the subject so no assumptions about future generations...) – SF. Aug 23 '12 at 14:30
To my mind 'immediate family' is restricted to parents and siblings; context and logic removes any further ambiguity in the situation that he has children himself. Personally I feel that your suggestion of "one of the youngest in his family" is quite sufficient to convey the meaning you're after - as long as the sentence occurs in a paragraph and isn't in isolation. – Lucy-Jane Aug 23 '12 at 14:46
To me, even more immediate family than the siblings is the wife and own children. – SF. Aug 23 '12 at 15:02
agreed, but context and logic is going to dictate that we're not talking about wife and children here – Lucy-Jane Aug 23 '12 at 15:04

I'd say, "He was one of the youngest children in his family." Leave out the "one of" and it becomes a pretty standard expression.

I suppose this could be ambiguous in that it could be taken to mean among all his cousins and not just his immediate family. But I think few would read it that way unless the context called for it.

share|improve this answer

What about trying a vaguer kind of inclusion:

He was one of the youngest among his siblings.

I don't think this implies the relationship that bothered you (him being his own sibling). Or a cleaner variation:

He was among the youngest of his siblings.

I personally would say casually:

He was one of the youngest of his brothers and sisters.

It's more words, but they're very simple and familiar ones.

Side note: I thought The Brothers Karamazov started with some phrase like this, but it's actually something (Russian) like "Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov...". So what about:

He was one of the last of his parent's children?

Hah. I find this a bit ambiguous, like perhaps they all died of the plague or something.

share|improve this answer

I find the phrase one of and the word youngest clumsy in this context, and would instead say (for example) He was among the younger siblings or He was a young sibling or He was little brother to most of his siblings.

share|improve this answer

He was one of the youngest in his family.

This should preclude the interpretation of family to include his own children because they are obviously younger than he is.

share|improve this answer

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