I am writing some software documentation. There are data structures that are organized in trees and every element in the structure can be child or parent "to"/"of" every other element.

I am not a native speaker and my instincts are pretty divided on the matter themselves, so I guess I have to turn to higher powers to answer that question. Hence, I turn to you:
Is it "to" or "of" in that case?

7 Answers 7


"Of" is the preposition you are looking for. You can also use the possessive 's:

  • X is a parent of Y
  • Y is a child of X
  • X is Y's parent
  • Y is X's child
  • 1
    Definitely the correct answer for the situation at hand, but wouldn't it be possible to say, say, "Herbert was not a good parent to his daughter?"
    – Pekka
    Sep 30, 2010 at 16:56
  • 1
    @Pekka: right on, but that's a different construction altogether. I would argue that the "to" is there because of the "good" rather than because of the "parent". Cf. "Herbert was a good friend/boss/colleague to her" or simply "Herbert was good to her".
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 1, 2010 at 14:29
  • true, good point. It's definitely more related to the "good".
    – Pekka
    Oct 1, 2010 at 14:33
  • 1
    Yes, to me "father to" implies something more than being the biological father, while "father of" does not.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 4, 2010 at 12:07

Poets differ on this too :)

Wordsworth said of:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A Rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!

The Child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be

Gerard Manley Hopkins said to:

‘THE CHILD is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’
No; what the poet did write ran,
‘The man is father to the child.’
‘The child is father to the man!’
How can he be? The words are wild.
  • OK, quoting poetry for questions about usage is probably a bit off-base, but this is what immediately came to mind when I read the question title. And a little bit of poetry will brighten up our day :)
    – Benjol
    Oct 4, 2010 at 9:50
  • Indeed, it did brighten up my day. Thank you, sir!
    – bastibe
    Oct 4, 2010 at 11:54

I sometimes see 'father to' or 'parent to', but I don't think it is the natural expression, which would be 'parent of' in this context.

A Google search turns up 900,000,000 'parent to' and 1,200,000,000 'parent of' but that would contain a lot of irrelevant matches and I don't know how to narrow it down to what we want.

  • 2
    Use the asterisk: "* is a parent to ", " is a child to *", etc. Edit: muh, the SE formatting messes it up, but you get the idea.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 30, 2010 at 13:16
  • Thanks for the help; I didn't get very far with it, but I know another site where I can ask questions on working Google. Sep 30, 2010 at 14:15
  • 3
    @RegDwight, I took the liberty of fixing the URLs in your comment. I just ran into the extreme pickiness of the StackExchange URL handler elsewhere here. It’s pretty annoying.
    – nohat
    Sep 30, 2010 at 16:25

There are two different ideas being expressed here. One preposition, "of", makes the relationship itself explicit, and expressed the possessive relationship:

Bob is the father of Susie.  <--> Bob is Susie's father.

The other idea preposition, "to", links with the verb preceding the relationship to express the quality of it:

Bob is a good father to Susie.

Bob is like a father to Susie.

Also notice the article used. A native English speaker would not say "Bob is a father of Lucie" or "Bob is a father to Lucie". There will always be an adjective ("good") or a qualifier ("like").

In the case of data structures, documentation uses "X is the parent of Y", but in talking about making something the parent of something else, it will say "X is parented to Y" (but never "X is childed to Y").


A "father of" is something you are, no matter what you do. A "father to" is something you do, no matter what you are.


I think 'father of' means biologically, but 'father to' figuratively, e.g. Joseph was the father of Jesus. Our elders should be respected; they are our parents. The males will always be fathers to us.


I think 'father of' means biologically, but 'father to' figuratively, e.g. Joseph was the father of Jesus. Our elders should be respected; they are our parents. The males will always be fathers to us. Hence the phrase: our forefathers.

  • 1
    'Joseph was the father of Jesus' and 'father means biologically' result in heresy. But the question here specifies the words 'parent', 'child', not 'father'. Mar 23, 2021 at 15:43

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