The sister to a husband becomes the wife's sister-in-law. If the sister in-law was to marry a woman, would she also become the wife's sister-in-law? If so can you keep calling the family of your in-law's spouse in-laws as well?

For example,

  • Chrono [M] marries Amy [F]
  • Chrono's sister Fate marries Nanoha [F]
  • Nanoah's brother Kyouya marries Shinobu [F]
  • Shinobu's sister Suzuka marries Arisa [F]

Would Amy use the term "in-law" to describe Arisa and her family?

closed as off-topic by Robusto, WS2, FumbleFingers, bib, Kristina Lopez Oct 1 '14 at 18:22

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  • Even without the same-sex marriage implications this seems impossible to answer. Tell me what you think the answer is supposing Nanoha were male. I would have thought that at best Arisa's family could be described as Amy's distant relatives by marriage. – WS2 Sep 29 '14 at 23:38
  • @WS2 indefinite however i don't think that is right and i have no source to correct me either way. the example is something i am working on in a fiction where Amy jokes that if Fate ended up marrying Nanoha she's end up having some very rich in-laws (since Shinobu's family is rich) and i threw in Arisa being the furthest i could readily think of given i was keeping names, familial relationships and genders (i could keep going but that would take time to write up). i don't see how Nanoha being male would be any different, my doubt would be the same regardless if she or Arisa were men – Memor-X Sep 30 '14 at 0:02
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is not a question about English, but about technical nomenclature for familial relationships. – Robusto Sep 30 '14 at 0:07
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    @Theresa Not only 'certain parts of the USA'. I am British and I most certainly refer to my wife's sister's husband as my brother-in-law. But beyond that I think they become 'distant relatives by marriage'. – WS2 Sep 30 '14 at 7:56

According to Wikipedia (although no sources are cited):

Your sister-in-law is either the sister of your spouse, or the wife of your sibling. So Nanoha is Chrono's sister-in-law, and Fate is Amy's sister-in-law.

Shinobu is the wife of the brother of the sister of the spouse of the sister of Chrono. This doesn't fit either definition. I think she's Chrono's sister-in-law's sister-in-law, and Amy's sister-in-law's sister-in-law's sister-in-law, but we don't have a specific term for this relationship in English (there are some societies with much more elaborate naming schemes for familial relationship, I wouldn't be surprised if they have terms for this). And Arisa is then another step removed.

However, sometimes people use the general term in-laws to refer to everyone they become related to by marriage. So they might then refer to all these additions to the family after marriage as their in-laws, but I think this is usually reserved just for close relatives. It's usually just parents and siblings, you don't generally hear people referring to cousins-in-law, for instance. When the distant relatives are related only through several steps of marriage and siblings, they're not likely to be included unless you actually socialize with them much.

In many cases, we simply ignore the marriage aspect: when you marry someone, their neices and nephews become yours as well, we don't say neice-in-law or nephew-in-law.


As this famous scene from Spaceballs puts it:

Dark Helmet: "Lone Starr - there is something I must tell you. I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate."

Lone Starr: "And what does that make us?"

Dark Helmet: "Absolutely nothing, which is what you are about to become."

An in-law technically only works to one degree: My wife's siblings are my in-laws and vie versa - but even my parents and her parents are not related in any fashion.

In more common parlance one can speak of the "in-laws" less specifically, to denote a tie by marriage, but going by the specific definition, it only applies to the immediate family of your spouse.

From here:

The earliest recorded use of the phrase is in brother-in-law (13c.); the law is Canon Law, which defines degrees of relationship within which marriage is prohibited.

The purpose of the term was to exclude non-marriable individuals. A man cannot marry his in-law or vice versa - but there is nothing to prevent a degree of marriage in this instance.

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