Here's the situation:

You and your spouse are talking with a third person who is of the opposite gender as yourself. e.g., my wife and I are talking with a woman named - let's call her Joan.

If I'm talking to Joan about my firstborn son, I don't want to say "my son" because it may imply that he is not also my wife's son. I also don't necessarily want to say "our son" because it may imply that Joan is the co-parent, even though everyone present knows that's not the case (it could be even more awkward with a couple talking to a man, and the wife is talking, because there might be a little more doubt about the biological parentage in that circumstance).

Of course, I could gesture at my wife while saying "our son," but is there a verbal way of indicating the child belongs to myself and my wife without saying something long and awkward like "the son of my wife and myself" or "I and my wife's son" or "me and my wife's son" etc.?


The comments make sense; I guess I should have presented the scenario as my wife not being there; if in the course of the conversation I mentioned my wife, and then later my son, but said that ("my son" -- or "our son") those expressions would seem even awkwarder to me (without my wife present). But the commenter is probably right that I'm overthinking it.

  • 5
    Just one more reason why I don't have children.
    – deadrat
    Jan 8, 2016 at 17:36
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    I get your point. However, I myself would not think twice about saying "my son." Frankly, I think most people would feel the same way (i.e., they would experience no awkwardness). I can even imagine saying "our son," since the "third person" KNOWS he's not the bastard child of her and me. That's my two cents. Don Jan 8, 2016 at 17:59
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    I think you're entirely overthinking this. Joan is unlikely to think she is included in our son and your wife is unlikely to think she is excluded from my son, unless your past words or behavior would lead them to think otherwise.
    – choster
    Jan 8, 2016 at 18:34
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    One of the holes in English grammar is the lack of distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural (inclusive and exclusive of the person addressed, that is). Ojibwe (an Algonquian language) has that distinction, which would solve the problem quite nicely. I can hardly recommend code-switching to Ojibwe as a solution to your little social problem, though. Jan 8, 2016 at 18:36
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    @PapaPoule: Oh yes, sorry, my boolean blunder; I'll fix it. Jan 8, 2016 at 19:03

2 Answers 2


"Our son" would work fine in the situation. Context (as well as the memories held by both Joan and your wife) makes it clear to everyone involved that Joan is not the co-parent and that the first-person plural must refer to the speaker and someone else, where your wife is far and away the most obvious candidate.

If your wife is not present, "my son" would work just fine.

If the distinction is really important, or if you did actually have a son with Joan but that's not who you're referring to, you could introduce the topic by saying "My wife and I have a son" and after that references to "son" will refer to him.


One way to circumvent possessive pronouns is to refer to the persons you talk about by their names. That is a natural thing to do when your party has already met them (is friends with your family, etc.). But it can be carried out even if they've never met: "Peter -- that's our eldest -- has won a scholarship." From that onwards, just "Peter". It is also less awkward if there are two or more sons in the family. Plus, it may be more natural for you as speaker.

"My son" does not entail that the son is exclusively yours, and will not be interpreted in that way. Nor do collocations such as "my country" or "my God" convey the conviction of the speaker of their exclusive rights.

"Our son" is ambivalent but will be interpreted correctly (i.e., in this case, exclusively) from context. A notable example of an exclusive use of "our" is the beginning of the Lord's Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven... It would be difficult to include the addressee! Just for fun, here's a translation of the Lord's Prayer to Quenya, an invented language that distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive first person pronouns (explained in notes).

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