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I asked a similar question earlier but this one is more specific in the example.

Growing up with a brother who did X and was the only healthy sibling, and another brother who did anti-X, made John very good at management.

My sentence expresses that the brother who did X was the only healthy sibling of John. However, it is still clumsy in structure especially in the first part "a brother who did X and was the only healthy sibling."

How can this sentence be improved? Is the comma after sibling correct?

(Since it is of the structure "Growing up with A and B" and we don't put comma after A in this sentence)

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  • That sentence is confusing because you are not indicating to the reader whether it is the X/anti-X behaviour that they should mainly be paying attention to, or the health of the brother who did X — especially as these attributes have no obvious connection with each other. It would be much better to make the health issue the focus of a separate sentence and explain its relevance there in more detail.
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 18, 2014 at 11:29

2 Answers 2

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You could try:

John's management skills were born out of growing up with one brother, his only healthy sibling, who did X, and another who did anti-X.

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  • I'm far happier with 'his ... sibling' than with 'the only healthy sibling'. Dec 18, 2014 at 11:19
  • @EdwinAshworth Of course they potentially have different meanings. In the original, it is 'the only healthy sibling', which suggests John himself may not have been healthy. But I realise now that, without licence, I have changed it to 'his only healthy sibling', which seems to confirm that John himself was healthy.
    – WS2
    Dec 18, 2014 at 20:12
  • I mean I prefer my / his / your / their ...sibling/s to a sibling (not followed by 'of'). Dec 18, 2014 at 22:08
  • In this "who did X" can be misinterpreted to apply as a non-restrictive clause to sibling instead of restrictive clause to brother. It now reads "brother, his only healthy sibling, who did X"
    – Joe Black
    Dec 21, 2014 at 1:28
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Growing up with a brother who did X, the only healthy sibling, and another brother who did anti-X, made John very good at management.

This is one possibility, but it creates a slight potential for interpretation of the healthy sibling as a third party.

I prefer:

Growing up with a brother, the only healthy sibling, who did X[,] and another brother, who did anti-X, made John very good at management.

I'm torn on the bracketed comma, but - if clarity is of utmost importance - I'd add it. As you point out, "Growing up with A and B" does not require a comma after A, but the comma seems to help with the rhythm in this case.

The benefit of this structure is explicitly linking the healthy sibling trait to the brother, as well as positioning X and anti-X closer together in the sentence.

EDIT

After brushing up on restrictive/nonrestrictive usage, I believe that you can offer the sentence with only a slight change and no commas whatsoever.

'Growing up with a brother who was the only healthy sibling who did X and another brother who did anti-X made John very good at management.'

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  • "Growing up with a brother, the only healthy sibling, who did X," is potentially ambiguous as "who did X" can be seen as a non-restrictive clause when it really is a supposed to be a restrictive clause. Similarly, "brother who did X, the only healthy sibling," is ambiguous because the clause "the only health sibling" can appear to apply to X instead of brother.
    – Joe Black
    Dec 18, 2014 at 10:04
  • I see your point. I will edit my answer. Dec 18, 2014 at 10:29
  • The ambiguity disappears if you use parentheses instead of two commas: "Growing up with a brother (his only healthy sibling), who did X, ..." Stylistically, I think that "the only healthy..." is better rendered with "his only healthy..."
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 18, 2014 at 11:22
  • 'Growing up with a brother who was the only healthy sibling who did X and another brother who did anti-X made John very good at management.' is also a bit ambiguous as the restrictiveness can be seen as nested; i.e. the first brother can be seen as "the only healthy sibling who did X," which doesn't preclude existence of other siblings who do X. Upvoting for suggestions. Among all ambiguous alternatives, your second suggestion ("brother, the only healthy sibling,") is perhaps the least clunky. The parentheses do not seem to go well (but "his" does) in the context.
    – Joe Black
    Dec 29, 2014 at 4:32
  • Personally, "his" versus "the" calls into question John's health. If John is unhealthy, "the only healthy sibling (of the three brothers, John included)" is fitting. If John is healthy, and one of his siblings is also healthy, "his only healthy sibling (of his two siblings)" is fitting. Dec 29, 2014 at 6:19

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