At my English lesson I said "They had good relations" (about two neighbors), but my teacher corrected me "They had good realtionship". Why?

  • I think the cited duplicate question contains some very good answers to OP's question. Nevertheless, I would also add that relations is used in a much more formal setting, for instance: diplomatic relations between US and Iraq. On the other hand, relationship isn't usually employed this specifically and has a broader scope. Aug 12, 2014 at 18:33
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    "They had good relationship." is also not grammatical.
    – Pockets
    Aug 12, 2014 at 18:36
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    As one of the answers in the linked question indirectly says, “They had good relations” is quite likely to be understood as “They had good sex”, which is quite possibly not what you intended. As an aside, if you are talking about two neighbours, it is often preferable to say instead that they are on good terms, rather than mentioning relation(ship)s at all. Aug 12, 2014 at 18:52
  • If your teacher thinks that “They had good realtionship” is actual English, let alone correct, you need a new teacher. It contains at least two errors.
    – tchrist
    Aug 14, 2014 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


"Relations" also can refer to people connected to the neighbors by blood...their extended family. Thus if you are talking about their relations to each other, "They had a good relationship is less confusing.


If you originally said, "They had good relations" and your teacher changed the wording to "They had a good relationship," I think your teacher either was trying to uphold a rather subtle distinction or was trying to steer you away from unintended implications of your statement. The relevant definitions of the two terms in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary are as follows:

relation 7 b pl (1) : DEALINGS, INTERCOURSE {foreign relations} (2) SEXUAL INTERCOURSE

relationship 3 a : a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings {had a good relationship with his family} b : a romantic or passionate attachment

One possibility is that your teacher heard the word "relations" and thought "Uh-oh, my student is unwittingly inviting hearers to imagine that she's talking about relation[s] definition 7b(2)." Of course, what's relation[s] definition 7b(2) for the goose is relationship definition 3b for the gander—and your teacher doesn't seem to have harbored any concerns that the corrected sentence might be misread as referring to "a romantic or passionate attachment." So either a high level of selective delicacy was at work, or your teacher was focusing on the difference between relation[s] definition 7b(1) and relationship definition 3a. Let's give the teacher the benefit of the doubt.

The chief difference between "dealings, [nonsexual] intercourse" on the one hand and "a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings" on the other is that the former (relations) refers to particular interactions, while the latter (relationship) deals with the overall state of affairs between the interacting parties. As I said, it's a rather subtle distinction—and neither your original wording (which focuses on the discrete instances of interaction) nor your teacher's rewording (which focuses on the larger connection that those discrete events have established) is inherently objectionable. They just emphasize slightly different things.

If you're still curious about why your teacher felt so strongly that relationship definition 3a was preferable to relation[s] definition 7b(1), I recommend asking. If the teacher looks embarrassed, you'll know that those two definitions weren't at the heart of the correction after all.

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