Phrasing like "a husband and his wife" or "a daughter and her father" always irked me, for being a bit redundant. Surely, it is enough to say "man and his wife" (or in the case of same-sex marriages "woman and her wife"), as saying "husband" already includes a relationship with, and existence of, a "wife".

Is it bad practice (or grammatically ill-advised) to say "a husband and his wife"?

Also, is it any better to say "a husband and a wife"? How does "a pet and its owner" fare?

Some examples:

The film ABC features a husband and his wife, on a spiritual journey to master the English language.

A daughter and her father appeared on my doorstep, asking for donations to Wikipedia.

  • In what context? Often you can drop the possessive pronoun, and just speak of "a husband and wife" (or "man and wife," although that often sounds archaic), "mother and child," "a daughter and father" – herisson Dec 18 '15 at 2:20
  • @sumelic I added some example sentences. Do you think they sound weird? – Amani Kilumanga Dec 18 '15 at 2:33
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    "A man and wife" has been considered sexist for many years now, and has been dropped from most marriage vows. A "husband and his wife" does sound rather clunky, I agree, and "a husband and wife" is much crisper. Similarly, "a daughter and her father" is over-burdened, and "a girl/woman and her father" would be much better. It's just lazy or uninformed writing. – Cargill Dec 18 '15 at 3:46
  • I know nowadays we have same sex marriages but I think the OP wanted to say "woman and husband", but I could be wrong, in which case I congratulate the OP on his liberal thinking. – Mari-Lou A Dec 18 '15 at 17:43
  • @Mari-LouA I was referring to same-sex marriages. I could definitely have been more clear there. – Amani Kilumanga Dec 18 '15 at 21:12

Redundancy is not bad practice. The majority of everything we say or write is superfluous, redundant, or pointless. 90% of your question is pointless and redundant. 90% of this answer is. However, it is not a rule of English (or any language) that everything that can be reworded must be reworded, and everything that can be removed must be removed. Pointlessness and redundancy are not wrong, they are merely pointless and redundant.

As to grammaticality, absolutely any pair of noun phrases connected by an and is equally grammatical English. That includes a husband and his wife, a husband and his husband, a husband and my mathematics, a husband and two Russians, and a husband and your insanely speedy frog sleeve bucket. To you, or even to everyone, some of these may make less sense than others, but that has no bearing whatsoever on the fact that they are grammatically impeccable English.

With that out of the way, let's turn to the elephant in the room here.

Why would you want to replace the first term anyway? More often than not that will be plain impossible. That's not how language works. How it works is that you're talking about that cool new series, and you start by saying, "oh, you know that cool new series about a husband and..." and then you realize that now you will have to mention his wife as well, but you can't go back and turn him into something else anymore. You have already said "a husband". So if you now want to avoid the awkwardness of saying "a husband and his wife", you can only do that by changing the second term, the one you've not put in words just yet.

So, what do you say, then? "A husband and his... um, spouse"? "A husband and his, um, better half"? "A husband and his... woman"? That's even worse than "a husband and his wife".

Same for "a daughter and her father". If you happen to have said "a girl and her father" in the first place, you're fine. But if you've already begun by saying "a daughter and", then how do you go on to fix it on the fly? "A daughter and that man whose daughter she is"? "A daughter and her male ancestor"? "A daughter and the grown-up man of whom she's in direct lineage"? "A daughter and the dude whose loins she's the fruit of"?

So saying "a daughter and her father" is actually the best alternative you have at that point.

And you can't even completely drop him from the sentence, either, because you do want to talk about two people, not one. The daughter wasn't there all alone. Just like that cool new series is not about the husband and nobody else.

Now, of course if we are talking exclusively about written language that you can go back and edit, then yes, it's obviously stylistically preferable to say "a girl and her father", or something to that extent. But, even so, as a quick reminder: style is not grammar. Nobody is under any obligation to follow a style that you or I happen to like. Just like nobody is under any obligation to only wear shoes of your favorite color, or my favorite size. Or any shoes at all, for that matter.

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    Excellent!! It needs to be pointed out, though, that the "redundant" husband/daughter may be an important thing to introduce first -- it's not just a matter of stuttering midway through saying a casual sentence. If a story is about a person whose most relevant characteristic (to the plotline or whatever) is that he's a husband (or she's a daughter) then you want to get that stated up front, rather than waiting for the reader to surmise it from the existence of a wife (or father). – Hot Licks Dec 18 '15 at 22:04
  • "90% of your question is pointless and redundant." Could you elaborate on this? Also, am I correct to say your idea is that it is grammatically correct, and merely a question of style preferences? – Amani Kilumanga Dec 20 '15 at 2:47

As Cargill's comment mentions, not all cases can be considered equivalent. Having only one of the words indicate the relationship may imply a heirarchy between them. In cases such as marriage where it is generally accepted that both parties have equal status, the word choice should avoid the implication. This is where "husband/wife and wife/husband" is more accepted. If the two were not married, each would be referred to as "a husband" or "a wife". In general there would be no reason to refer to someone as a "husband/wife" unless it is relevant. It is acceptable to say "woman and her wife" or "man and his husband," as without a gender difference there is less distinction which makes it harder to imply that one is more or less important than the other, and saying something like "wife and wife" is redundant.

In other cases, only one of the two words needs to indicate the relationship. Having both words indicate the relationship may be more explicitly clear but can also sound redundant. In these cases you could say "girl and her father," "man and his daughter," "pet and its owner," or "man/woman and his/her pet."

Another exception to this would be where the relationship is relevant to the subject, and both words should indicate that relationship. This would be cases such as "a father and son talk" or "mother and daughter time."

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    "Husband and wife" does mean that they are married to each other; the rare case where they are not would be "a husband and a wife". – Tim Lymington Dec 18 '15 at 17:22

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