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Is it clear who the first and second "their" refer to in the following sentence, or is the sentence likely to confuse the reader --

"It has been decided between the parties that party number 1 will have permanent custody of their son xxx and daughter yyy and will be their legal guardian"

If there is ambiguity can it be better written?

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    As "their" comes to replace gendered pronouns in what I'll snarkily call Millennial English, the sentence becomes ambiguous. Imagine that the original is in a language, where the possessive pronoun gets its number and gender from "guardian," and not its antecedent. My lawyer brain would replace "their guardian" with "the guardian of both." – remarkl Feb 6 at 14:43
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As a native English speaker, I can figure out what is intended by this sentence by context (knowing that only children are usually appointed a legal guardian allows me to eliminate most other possible meanings).

One way of making it clearer would be "It has been decided between the parties that party number 1 will have permanent custody of their son xxx and daughter yyy and will be the childrens' legal guardian"

  • Ok, but the context does make the original sentence unambiguous, right? reason I am asking is that I am translating from another language to English and I want to avoid inserting words ("the children's") that are not there in the original document. – programmerravi Feb 6 at 13:53
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    @programmerravi, no it's not unambiguous. As Meg says, legal guardians are (perhaps) more often appointed for children than for adults, but adults have legal guardians too. Usually, this would be in the case of a developmentally disabled adult, or an incapacitated elderly person. The point is, the context makes it reasonably clear, but if someone wanted to read the statement a different way, it would be reasonable to do so. – Juhasz Feb 6 at 14:16
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    I feel like it's really hard to say that no other person could possibly find some way to misunderstand it; it COULD be read to say that party 1 was becoming party 1's legal guardian, or even party 2's guardian, but to me that seems pretty illogical. I feel confidant that the only logically consistent way to interpret it is "It has been decided between the parties that party number 1 will have permanent custody of [the two parties'] son xxx and daughter yyy and will be [the two childrens'] legal guardian", but there is sometimes no accounting for readers failing to apply logical reasoning... – Meg Feb 6 at 14:19

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