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Is it normal to refer to adult-age sons and daughters of someone as children?

A native speaker of Arabic learning English has said that in Arabic, the word for sons and daughters is "أولاد" (awlaad) (Wiktionary link), and that it applies no matter how old they are, and that the word for people who are not adults is "أطفال" (atfaal) (Arabic language Wiktionary link). The person wanted to know whether you can still use "children" to mean "sons and daughters", even after you can no longer describe someone as a child in the "not yet adults" sense.

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As AndrewGrimm notes, "children" has two very distinct meanings: It can refer to people who are not yet adults, or it can refer to people who are the offspring of a specified person or people.

It is normal and common to refer to adults as "children" when expressing the relationship. Saying that so-and-so are the "children of" someone is another way of saying the "sons and/or daughters of". For example, "Alice and Bob are the children of Carl." "Children of current employees are given preference in hiring." Etc. Depending on the context, you may or may not specify that they are adults. You would not say "Alice and Bob are children" without giving an "of" someone if they are adults.

Side note: "Children" (without a relationship) can mean anyone who is not an adult, but it is unusual to use it to refer to people who are more than 12 or so unless you are including them in a group that includes such younger people. That is, it would be odd to refer to a group of 17-year-olds as "children". It is more common to call them "teenagers" or "young people". But if you were talking about a group of people ranging in age from 6 to 18, you might refer to them collectively as "children". Like, you might say "the children in our school district". But few would say "the children in our high school".

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  • As a heads up, I've edited the question a bit. Dec 21 '12 at 9:37
  • I don't think your edit changes my answer. The English word "children" can be translated by either Arabic word depending on context. Confusing, perhaps, but hardly a unique situation: there are many cases where language A has two different words while language B uses the same word for both meanings.
    – Jay
    Dec 21 '12 at 21:28
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It feels a bit strange, but yes.

http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/child is listed as having a few meanings, but 1 and 4 are the most relevant ones here.

"1" says that it is used for people who are not yet teenagers. "4" says that it is also used for the sons or daughters of someone.

Meaning 4 says "A son or daughter; an offspring," and you may think that "offspring" is a unambiguous alternative to "child". But "offspring" is often used to refer to the offspring of an animal, so it may be slightly impolite to use it for people. It does get used, but often in a slightly derogatory manner.

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    Usually, there's no ambiguity. If you say "a child" or "the children", it means young people. If you say "my children" or "John's children", it means sons and daughters. (If John is a teacher, you may need to use context figure out which meaning is intended.) Dec 18 '12 at 14:25
  • I don't really understand what this answer is supposed to mean. If it "feels a bit strange", why on earth would you do it in the first place? I think I can safely say neither of my parents would be so crass as to introduce me to someone else by saying "This is my child", since my teens. Nor would I do that to my own children. Just because technically it's "permissible" according to a dictionary doesn't mean anyone actually does it (except in unusual circumstances where they actually want to annoy or demean their children! :) Dec 22 '12 at 0:50
  • @FumbleFingers in the scenario you describe, involving one person of a known gender, your parent could say "This is my (son/daughter)". Dec 25 '12 at 10:17
  • @Andrew Grimm: Even if I were being introduced with either/both of my sisters and/or brothers, I think it would be at least "unusual" for my parents to refer to us as "my/our children". They would normally say something along the lines of "These are our sons and daughters". Dec 28 '12 at 15:13
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    @FumbleFingers Huh, I guess words can have different connotations to different people. When the insurance company asks me if I have any children I want covered under the policy, I don't take that as any sort of insult to my children's maturity. If my mother were to say, "These are my children Jay and Sandy", I can't imagine that I'd find that insulting or demeaning. That's just ... what the word means.
    – Jay
    Mar 5 '14 at 14:54
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While the usage is correct, it's awkward. They are commonly referred to as "adult children".

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    I never refer to my 44-year-old son as an oxymoronic "adult child". When someone asks if I have children, I say "Yes, I have two sons. One lives in LA and the other lives with me in Taiwan". Regardless of how old they are, they are both my "children".
    – user21497
    Dec 19 '12 at 1:14
  • "adult children" is sometimes used in contexts where age is important, such as a form requiring someone to list all children under 18 and all adult children living with them. And someone might use it to emphasise that their children have left home or aren't dependent on them. But you wouldn't introduce someone as "my adult child/ren".
    – Stuart F
    Jan 13 at 12:04
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I have come to this thread in the process of writing sociologically about parent / child life transitions which presents the very problem discussed here. It demonstrates how complex language can be. 'Offspring' is the only word which can represent both sons and daughters of any age, but it is almost never used in conversation.

To sum up what is written above (with which I agree):

'Children' can be used for adult children but the use of the word in their presence is better avoided (a grey area?). 'Adult children' sounds pedantic because the age of the parent speaking will already suggest the age of the offspring. Son or daughter is always used in preference to 'child' for adult children whether or not they are present.

(My use of the plural 'children' in the last sentence above is also to avoid another problem in English - the lack of a gender-free third person singular pronoun)

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I'm a single dad of a 19yr old male, who I usually refer to as my kid when someone asks if I have any children...I do the same with them, asking do you have any kids...it would be strange to ask if they had any sons or daughters

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    Hi, welcome to EL&U. I encourage you to expound on the the usage of "kids" in this context with sources; it is pretty common in AmE at least. Please do take a moment to tour the site and see the help center.
    – livresque
    Aug 21 at 0:58
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Having same meaning for young children"offspring" "Children"seems to be right using in context but I would like join a new phrase to clear out for young children a phrase "Adult children" or "Adult Offspring".

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  • Hello, and welcome to the EL&U. Could you provide instances of the phrases you are giving from reliable sources available online?
    – fev
    Jan 13 at 12:21

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