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I teach ESL online through a company which provides materials. One sentence given is

"I have a little brother and little sister."

When I read this aloud to the student, I automatically added "a" little sister. Can anyone tell me if it is ok to drop the second article "a" in the original sentence?

Edited to add: I wonder if there is any US English / British English distinction here? I'm British.

(I've googled this question but can't find any info on it, it's hard to define the problem. But I searched for both sentences in quotes and the one with two articles has about double the number of search results as the original with the missing article.)

thanks, Rob

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    No, do not drop a here. If you do, then the listener may think that you are giving two descriptions of the same person: that person is both your little brother and your little sister. For example, in "I have a little brother and best friend" I will guess that the little brother is also the best friend. – GEdgar Sep 4 '20 at 12:20
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    Most native speakers would probably say I have a younger brother and sister. There are dozens of instances of a little brother and sister in Google Books, but only 2 instances of a little brother and a little sister and just one a little brother and little sister. Syntactically theyu're all fine, and in practice would always mean exactly the same. – FumbleFingers Sep 4 '20 at 12:23
  • @GEdgar: I have a little brother and best friend sounds to me like a non-idiomatic "zeugma". – FumbleFingers Sep 4 '20 at 12:24
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In comments FumbleFingers wrote:

Most native speakers would probably say I have a younger brother and sister. There are dozens of instances of a little brother and sister in Google Books, but only 2 instances of a little brother and a little sister and just one a little brother and little sister. Syntactically they're all fine, and in practice would always mean exactly the same.

I have a little brother and best friend sounds to me like a non-idiomatic "zeugma".

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  • Interesting that the Google Books instances are the opposite of Google search results instances. – Rob Sep 4 '20 at 14:14
  • I'd say that "I have a little brother and a little sister" is standard and formal, "I have a little brother and sister" is standard and not so formal, and "I have a little brother and little sister" sounds at best unidiomatic. Try it with "I have a big dog and a big house", where the referents are pretty disparate. Omitting the second 'a' sounds near outlandish. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 4 '20 at 16:10
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In a comment GEdgar wrote:

No, do not drop a here. If you do, then the listener may think that you are giving two descriptions of the same person: that person is both your little brother and your little sister. For example, in "I have a little brother and best friend" I will guess that the little brother is also the best friend.

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