3

Here is an excerpt from IELTS OG.:

For example, when my cousins were backpacking around the world, they were able to reassure their family and friends that....

I find the use of family in its singular form very strange, because obviously the author was talking about more than one family, since cousins have at least two families.

I suspect this has something to do with family being a collective noun, but I don’t think it is a good justification. It isn’t wrong to say one family, two families, is it?

2
  • It's still the same family even if they're only each other's cousins.
    – tchrist
    Apr 11 '20 at 3:02
  • 1
    @tchrist 'Family' is ill-defined, polysemous. Nuclear family? ... Extended family (with or without Adam?) Apr 11 '20 at 14:37
2

If you want to use family as a noncount noun, you should omit their:

When my cousins were backpacking around the world, they were able to reassure family and friends that . . .

If those cousins of yours are siblings, they share the same family and your example is correct:

When my cousins were backpacking around the world, they were able to reassure their family and friends that . . .

If two or more of said cousins are not siblings, they do not share the same family and you should pluralize families:

When my cousins were backpacking around the world, they were able to reassure their families and friends that . . .

If you consider you and any of your cousins to be a part of one big happy family, you should . . . :

When my cousins were backpacking around the world, they were able to reassure their friends and our family that . . .

0

Family has some uncountable senses. One of these is the sense "people who are family members." This sense occurs commonly in the phrase "friends and family."

The sentence is correct as it stands. It would also be correct to use "families" instead of "family."

1
  • 1
    It might also be correct to use families in the plural, but this seems rather unlikely given that the referenced cousins of the narrator are almost certainly each other’s siblings or perhaps cousins, which means that they would all share the same family. Only if the two referenced cousins were each related only to the narrator and not to each other (because one was the narrator’s maternal cousin and the other their paternal cousin) might they have single shared family apart from the narrator themself. Seems unlikely to me.
    – tchrist
    Apr 11 '20 at 14:14
0

I concur with @TinfoilHat.

According to this Ngram, their families and friends is more productive than their family and friends. In comparison, his families and friends has no results while his family and friends is very productive.

Therefore, I suspect that the IELTS writer was assuming that the cousins belonged to the same family when writing this sentence.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.