I came across an odd-looking usage in the paper today...

The wife of President Assad listens to her husband yesterday with her two younger children

The sentence suggests that she has some other children somewhere, as otherwise it would just have referred to "her children". But if there are three or more children, ought not the two on show be the youngest? But the youngest should only be one child; more than one can't be the youngest? Or are they younger because they are a group, and there may only be one other?

Can anyone help me out with this?

  • It is possible that the two children have a sibling who is younger and another who is older than them. And this sentence seems to suggest that.
    – BST
    Jan 12, 2012 at 12:16
  • But according to Wikipedia, Assad has three children.
    – BST
    Jan 12, 2012 at 12:21
  • To me, younger is preferable to youngest, not least because it seems an odd choice to define 2/3 of a group with a superlative. The oldest child is the only one who isn't younger than any other child -- thus, younger children is quite clear.
    – user13141
    Jan 12, 2012 at 14:50
  • @MetaEd, I don't think they are quite the same; two specific instances of a more general problem. I admit I didn't find that question when searching. Jan 12, 2012 at 16:51

4 Answers 4


The two children are members of a group and the comparative or superlative relates to that group.

Expressions like the ten best universities or the cleverer children in the class are quite common and I don't think require further explanation.

As for her two younger children, both forms are grammatically acceptable but I prefer her two youngest children because it is clear that the superlative implies comparison to the entire set. Use of the comparative, on the other hand, brings some confusion, because there is some ambiguity as to whether there exists a younger child than the two present, although I would probably assume this is not the case. We also have to disregard a potential comparison with the woman herself, which would be a pleonasm.

  • You have post your answer while I was writing mine so I haven't read it. BUT I believe we could say ten best universities because there are different types of universities. If you are interested in business Harvard Business School will be the best for you, but if you are in Computer Science MIT will be the best for you. We can also say ten best universities because there is a word about numbers like ten. When I hear the two youngest children that means for me that there are a lot more children, but these particular one are the youngest. Jan 12, 2012 at 13:29
  • 2
    I think the use of younger here is very confusing. Compare with her younger brothers, which implicitly compares the youth of the brothers to her own. Here obviously, if the comparison to her own age was made, it would be a pleonasm. Still the comparative needs to compare to something, and what it compares to here is not explicit. The use of superlative however implies a comparison to the entire possible set. Jan 12, 2012 at 13:30
  • @speedyGonzales: the two youngest children means two from the beginning of that order, the entire set could be 3 or more. The youngest children means all children except the oldest ones, the number of the total set then is unknown. Jan 12, 2012 at 13:35
  • @Benjamin, yes you are right but you are speaking going out of language point of view. I am going out of Math point of view. In math we can say countable infinite. Can you count an infinite numbers, I can't but I can count them obviously using other approach then counting. Jan 12, 2012 at 13:39
  • @Benjamin Yes definitely, that is exactly what I have tried to say, that the two youngest and the two younger change the number of the children and hence the situation. Also look at the observation -ten best universities means ten out of all the best universities, while ten best Math Universities means something different and you can say Best Math University, but not best university because it depends on different criterias. This guys has 3 children so here the right choice is the two younger one. Jan 12, 2012 at 13:42

Well, lets suppose you have 3 kids- 13, 9 and 7 years old. Then 7 years old is the youngest child, 13 years old is the oldest child, 13 and 9 years old are the two older children and 7 and 9 years old are the two younger children. This is not question about language but rather a question about sets to me. When you are talking about the youngest or the oldest, that should be only one of that kind. The answer that makes sense here is younger.


'...two younger children' doesn't at all sound odd to me.

As you guessed it almost right, (more than one can't be the youngest?), in fact, '...two youngest children': that would sound odd.


Yes, there can be more than one children be the youngest. As you already mentioned if you take them as a group of children. For example, in school.

I want to add an additionally example: Twins

What's about twins? Of course, one of them is older, but just a few minutes. You rarely take a difference between them, when talking about their age. In this case you also would say 'the two youngest children'.

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