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I have a question related to another one that I have asked.

In the following sentence, whose father is being referenced?

Billy’s friend and his father were there.

In the following re-structured sentence, whose friend is being referenced?

Billy’s father and his friend were there.

Clearly, there is ambiguity about the second (or subsequent) nouns. Is there a better way to structure such sentences to remove the ambiguity?

2 Answers 2

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There's always going to be some ambiguity, but I believe that

Billy's friend and his father were there.

is talking about the friend's father; to refer instead to Billy's father, you'd need to remove the "his":

Billy's friend and father were there.


Similarly for the other way around:

Billy's father and his friend were there.

is probably talking about the father's friend, while

Billy's father and friend were there.

is talking about Billy's friend.


To remove all ambiguity, you're gonna need to rewrite things.

Billy's friend was there, and Billy's father arrived eventually, too.

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  • I was thinking that Billy’s friend and Billy’s father were there. sounded too verbose. I suppose that removing the “his” could actually help. That’s not bad.
    – Synetech
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 23:24
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    That's a good father who shows up late just to help his son be less ambiguous.
    – webbiedave
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 6:54
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Billy's friend and his friend's father were there. The other possibility is a bit harder to rephrase concisely and unambiguously. Possibly something like: Billy's friend was there, as was Billy's father.

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