While I was translating the sentence "Mi tío y mi tía estaban caminando en esa calle cuando vieron tu coche," on DuoLingo, I got dinged for translating the sentence to "My aunt and uncle were walking on that street when they saw your car." The "correct" translation on the site appears to be "My uncle and my aunt were walking on that street when they saw your car;" I can't put my finger on it, but something just feels wrong about this sentence. Are my suspicions accurate? Is my translation grammatically correct? Does order matter when writing a sentence including aunt and uncle?

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    Order doesn't matter for grammar or meaning. For direct translation, Mi tío y mi tía can only mean "My uncle and my aunt". Swapping the order for translation could be construed the same as swapping the order in any general quote, which means you're not quoting, you're paraphrasing.
    – SrJoven
    Sep 9 '14 at 12:47
  • Idiomatically, I would not translate caminar en to walking on the road but rather down it. That’s because in English, one typically walks down a street to mean walking along it, not actually walking in the middle of the road itself dodging cars and buses. The walking in translation would make more sense if they had been caminando en plena mitad de la calle or something of that order: right in the middle of the street.
    – tchrist
    Sep 9 '14 at 13:00
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    Agree with @SrJoven, the "problem" was probably because you were expected to make a more direct translation, not because of poor English vs. correct English.
    – Brian S
    Sep 9 '14 at 18:30

You can write "my aunt and uncle" or "my uncle and aunt" and the meaning is exactly the same. However, according to Google Books the trend is definitely towards "aunt and uncle"

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I don't think there is any rule, but the normal pattern tends to be that when we have a common pair of words, the word with fewer syllables goes first.

For example, we say aunt & uncle, men & women, sons & daughters, and ladies & gentlemen.

For boys and girls or girls and boys it doesn't matter as both words only have one syllable.

It feels weird for me to say uncle and aunt, women and men or gentlemen and ladies.

  • 2
    That's a good rule of thumb, and it works most of the time but it's not bulletproof. What about Mom and Dad; black and white (not white and black); knife and fork (not fork and knife); sooner or later (not later or sooner); of mice and men and, ironically, oranges and lemons etc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 9 '14 at 12:01
  • 2
    "fork and knife" sounds much more natural to me than "knife and fork".
    – dj18
    Sep 9 '14 at 14:32
  • 1
    @dj18 Nope. books.google.com/ngrams/… Sep 9 '14 at 14:42
  • 1
    Again, it's not a rule. It seems to be a tendency, at least for people pairs. How about mother and father, father and mother, sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters, and niece and nephew? Sooner or later is ordered sequentially. Of Mice and Men is a title of a book. I don't hear oranges and lemons too often, but we do say apples and oranges not oranges and apples.
    – Jeffrey714
    Sep 9 '14 at 16:09
  • Sort order: Syllables > logical progression > alphabetically?
    – Bobson
    Sep 9 '14 at 19:46

The DuoLingo translation is grammatically correct and faithful to the literal meaning of the Spanish text, but it doesn't use the most usual collocation in English to describe the relatives. Rather than "My uncle and my aunt", it would be better to say "My uncle and aunt", or (most idiomatic of all), "My aunt and uncle" -- even though the last version reverses the order of the relatives in the source text.

The implication of getting marked down for the idiomaticity of your translation is that DuoLingo doesn't consider good style to be a criterion of acceptability; yet if I were translating a novel with the aim of making the English read as fluently as possible, I would almost certainly render that phrase (as you did) with "my aunt and uncle" rather than "my uncle and my aunt".

In my view, DuoLingo has fallen short here.

  • I think you may have misread the question—he wasn't marked down for his literalness, but for his idiomacy: he did write “My aunt and uncle” Sep 10 '14 at 7:00
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - You're quite right: thanks for pointing out my mistake. I've edited my answer accordingly.
    – Erik Kowal
    Sep 10 '14 at 10:19

"My aunt and uncle" is more common in English. In fact I've noticed that most "couple" relationships put the female first: aunt and uncle, mum and dad, mother and father, grandma and grandad, etc. Husband and wife is the only exception I can think of offhand - and that's slightly different because it's describing their relationship to each other, not the relationship to a third party.

Personally, I think the reason that they dinged you was that the order in the Spanish sentence you gave is "uncle and aunt" and they either made a deliberate choice to put it this way (so they knew you weren't getting tío and tía mixed up) or the person who translated it didn't consider reversing the order - because, after all, "uncle and aunt" doesn't sound wrong; it's only when you compare it to "aunt and uncle" that you realise the latter sounds more natural.

  • "Brother and sister" is another male-first.
    – Ste
    Sep 9 '14 at 15:49
  • @Ste That's not a "couple" relationship. Sep 9 '14 at 17:56
  • @starplusplus : You're entirely correct. Perhaps I should read more thoroughly in future.
    – Ste
    Sep 10 '14 at 6:43

You may find that there is a link to the good old Oxford English setup. It doesn't matter whether you write "aunt and uncle" or "uncle and aunt" but in English we try to stick with the simple prophecy of Ladies First.

In the same way that "Me and him" is as correct as "Him and me", but we put ourselves last.

Politeness, simply.

  • 1
    Husband and wife, dear sir or madam... even brothers and sisters I hear more often than the inverse..
    – oerkelens
    Sep 10 '14 at 8:18
  • Are you sure about that? What is your source? What about "brother and sister", for example? Ngram
    – Vilmar
    Sep 10 '14 at 8:20
  • As can be seen by Mari-Lou A's chart, the switch to "aunt and uncle" is relatively recent, in the last 50 years. Sep 10 '14 at 9:27

In my view, either aunt or uncle is fine. However, figuring out the correct order of words for non-native English speakers is notoriously tricky. For example, no English person would say a red, old, big, bus. But they might say an old, big, red bus or a big, old, red, bus.

Not sure if this helps..........

  • 1
    Actually this is a completely different case from the question - the order of adjectives has some rules, read this, for example.
    – Vilmar
    Sep 9 '14 at 15:22
  • @Vilmar - I never knew adjectives actually have an order... But it does match what "sounds right". Mind... blown...
    – Bobson
    Sep 9 '14 at 19:49
  • @Bobson That's the definition of a rule in language—grammar is nothing but the rules that make things sound right. Sep 10 '14 at 7:02

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