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In a daily I read (name has been changed):

Mr X takes a holiday with his divorced wife and daughter.

Is this correct? Here, doesn't divorced qualify both wife and daughter here?

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3 Answers 3

No, it doesn't, because you can't divorce your daughter.

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Possibly it could qualify both, if we were saying Mr X takes a holdiday with his divorced wife, and his daughter who is also divorced (as opposed to some other daughter). But one wouldn't normally mean that by the phrase.

Another objection would be that Mr X couldn't take a holiday with his divorced wife, as if he is divorced from her, she isn't his wife. It could, at a pinch, mean he is taking a holiday with his wife who is divorced from someone else, as opposed to a different wife, if he had more than one.

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Normally we would then say "Mr X. takes a holiday with his wife and daughter, both divorcees" I guess, to safeguard misunderstanding. –  Wolf5370 Sep 3 '12 at 11:32
    
@Wolf5370, one would hope so. –  Brian Hooper Sep 3 '12 at 11:42

This is a horrible sentence really.

"Mr X takes a holiday with his divorced wife and daughter."

It has so many possible meanings, none of which are well stated.

"Mr. X takes a holiday with his ex-wife and their daughter"

"Mr. X takes a holiday with his wife and daughter, both themselves divorcees"

"Mr X takes a holiday with his wife, a divorcee, and their daughter"

"Mr X takes a holiday with his wife, a divorcee, and her daughter"

and I'm sure even more oblique versions are possible.

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1  
You could just put a comma between 'wife' and 'and': "Mr X takes a holiday with his divorced wife, and daughter." –  Roaring Fish Sep 3 '12 at 12:05
    
+1 Elegant solution! –  Kris Sep 3 '12 at 12:09
    
Or "Mr. X takes a holiday with his daughter and [if such is the case, her mother,] his ex-wife." –  StoneyB Sep 3 '12 at 16:23
    
Conceivably the downvote is due to the third and fourth examples you gave. In both of them, “with his wife, a divorcee, and ... daughter” sounds like three people: his wife; a divorcee; a daughter. But the “horrible sentence” only refers to two people. –  jwpat7 Sep 4 '12 at 3:55
    
@jwpat7. That was the point of it being a hoirrible sentance - anyway you look at it, it conveys many meanings - context would help, but it really needs better wording. I think the down vote comes from the usual cowards that down vote posts willy-nilly without comment (which I think should not be allowed - comments should be mandatory for down-voting) - probably the same person who down voted Brian's answer too (also without comment). –  Wolf5370 Sep 13 '12 at 2:14

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