Suppose A murders B.Which are the correct ways (if any) to refer to this event?

  1. A's murder
  2. B's murder
  3. A's murder of B
  4. B's murder by A

I'm not a native speaker. I always think that (3) and (4) are both clear and I use them interchangeably. But sometimes I don't want to mention both the killer and the victim so I resort to (1) or (2). But I'm not sure if either of them is correct.

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    The phrase "X's murder" is ambiguous. It can refer to an act of murdering done by X OR an act of murder done to X. The latter is, in my estimation, the much more common interpretation. – GrimGrom Dec 27 '16 at 14:41
  • It sounds like you have used all these constructions frequently and not always about the same A and B... – Mad Physicist Dec 27 '16 at 19:41
  • @MadPhysicist I'm not sure I follow. Of course I have used some or all of these expressions before. But, until now, I have always been shaky about the potential ambiguity of (1) and (2). – yurnero Dec 27 '16 at 19:52
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    This is totally subjective and simply based on my personal experience and biases, but if someone referred to "Sam's murder" I would assume they were referring to Sam being murdered unless the context convinced me otherwise. If I were using this construction to mean the reverse I would add a bit and say "Sam's murder of James" (for example) – Kevin Wells Dec 27 '16 at 20:30

"X's murder" is an informal or colloquial construction: it may stand for either the murder of X or the murder committed by X, so it is up to the user to make sure the ambiguity is unimportant in your particular context. Agatha Christie's book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd does refer to him as victim, but a whodunit reader might consider the possibility that he was actually the killer...

Note that in a very formal context such as a court case, 'the murder of X' is correct (assuming that there is no question of accident or suicide) but 'the murder by X' assumes not only that X is guilty but that he has committed no other murders.

  • Even in the context of that court case re 'the murder of X', the aforementioned whodunit reader might question the strict impossibility of X's having been murdered more than once. ;) – Quuxplusone Dec 27 '16 at 21:08
  • I'm not even sure X can't be murdered more than once. A fires a heavy-caliber bullet through X's heart. 2 seconds later B, unaware of A's shot, fires an anti-tank rocket into X's head. Most people would say he was dead the instant A's bullet hit--hence A is the murderer. However, X is probably conscious when the rocket hits, the rocket causes the brain to cease operating so B is the murderer. – Loren Pechtel Dec 28 '16 at 5:11

Both A and B are correct and therefore ambiguous on their own. Murder means the act of killing someone, but it can be used to describe the action of the perpetrator committing the murder or the victim's experiencing it.

If the context does not make it clear, it is better to spell it out, which is less efficient with word count but more efficient communication


When I hear "X's murder", I initially assume X to be the victim and look to context clues to tell me different.

If I hear "X's 2nd murder", or "X's 5th murder", I assume X to be the murderer. But again, context clues could reveal that X is actually someone with bad luck who is continually reincarnated.

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