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I was with someone today and we were talking about a woman, and she said:

"Wow, the husband must be so proud."

I was confused as to which was correct or more appropriate as opposed to:

"Wow, her husband must be so proud."

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I think the person you were speaking with was playing off the condescending phrase the wife that some men use when they refer to their wives (as in, "I'd stay for another round, but I have to get home to the wife.") It is just not as common to say the husband. –  JLG Sep 17 '12 at 13:12
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I've removed the word "possession" which was inappropriate; but I'm not sure if the question is better, because it invites the answer "Never". –  Andrew Leach Sep 17 '12 at 13:18
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I don't think this is something that will ever get an affirmative answer. This is just a matter of speculation and nothing more than a debate. Neither way is wrong. One, I would think, would be considered informal because of there being no personal attachment to the person your friend was gossiping about. I've heard and said both versions. Grammatically speaking, there isn't anything wrong with what was said. It was just a preference of word choice that you have a problem with. –  Souta Sep 17 '12 at 17:13
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Both are grammatically correct. "The" is much less common and might have a negative connotation based on "the wife." However, the somewhat condescending "the wife" or "the husband" seems to be used in place of "my wife" or "my husband," which is different from the example you heard, where "the" is replacing "her."

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It can be said both ways.

Let me give you an example:

That is her computer.

But you can also say it this way:

That is the computer.

Therefore:

Wow, the husband must be so proud.

That sentence is just as correct as this:

Wow, her husband must be so proud.

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Both are valid, but would be used in slightly different contexts. The normal usage of determiners governs the choice here.

You use 'the' to signify that the determiner phrase refers to a referent already in scope. In this case, if the husband was mentioned previously (perhaps as part of a family), using the is fine:

I was talking to a couple earlier, and the wife told me she was having a baby. The husband must be so proud.

In this case "the husband" and "the wife" are in scope, since they constitute the "couple* mentioned.

If the referent is not in scope, you should use a different determiner to specify which husband you're talking about. So

I was talking to Alice earlier, and she told me she was having a baby. Her husband must be so proud.

Since "Alice" has been mentioned, the possessive determiner her suffices.

Exceptions

There are some cases where you can refer to family members with the without their being explicitly mentioned. For example, "the kids" is normally understood to refer to the speaker's own children. As others mentioned, "the wife" (or "the husband) can refer to one's spouse; this usage is condescending to the spouse.

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