Submitted by cheripetraitis on December 22, 2007

Younger vs. youngest

My husband and I disagree on the use of these two words. I say, since we have three children, two girls and a boy, that I can say that “Rebecca is the younger daughter, and the youngest child”. He says that since she is the youngest of all three children, that he can say she is his youngest daughter. I feel that it should be she is the younger daughter since there are only two daughters and of course, she is the youngest child.

HELP!

Comments

Sort by

Of course, in math, is it not considered at all incorrect to have a superlative of one: "zero is the smallest integer which is neither positive nor negative". Or even superlative of zero: "The smallest integer which is both positive and negative does not exist".

I remember as a kid being told that there are some languages in which there are only three numbers: one, two, and "many". I thought that was rather odd, but it turns out that grammatically speaking, English is such a language: "she is my young daughter" (one), "she is my younger daughter" (two), "she is my youngest daughter" (many).

Jonah:
<We've to be specific when using the English language otherwise ambiguity creeps in. FYI, I'm a linguist and language tutor who teaches English, French, German and Spanish.>
That's odd. Are you unaware that contracting "have" when it's not being used to mark perfection is highly nonstandard?

4 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

You are correct, your husband is wrong.
"er" is in comparison of two of the same type, while "est" is used to compare three or more of the same type.

3 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Well, beans to Jonah and the Columbia Guide to Standard American English! I'm a purist and I stand behind both Cheri and Delia!

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I would say that this is not an issue of "purity" as much as it is an issue of clarity. Should you say she is the youngest daughter, and your audience, by some means, becomes aware of the existence of another child--obviously a male--then it creates an unwelcome emphasis which might lead your listener to believe the daughter is a middle child. The most precise manner to express this is as you suggest, Cheri.

As for the "purity" of English, we've all got out pet peeves, but we must face the undeniable fact that our language is not the same language that is was even ten years ago. The truest form of purity in this case is to adapt as it changes. Were we to live quite miraculously to 500 years and maintain "purity" or speech, we would be utterly unintelligible to our listeners.

2 votes Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Mighty Red Pen. Just say he is the oldest/youngest of my younger brothers. Or, of the three, he is my younger/youngest brother.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I am the youngest of four children. The oldest two are fraternal twins, a brother and a sister. The next oldest is a brother. I say:

My eldest brother, the twin.
My sister, the twin.
My middle brother.
I am the youngest.

It is clear even though "older brother" for the twin is more correct <i>in writing</i> but loses clarity <i>in speech</i>. And, partly, my usage is cultural.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

How easy can this be: Two of the same gender is *****er. More than two is *****est.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Sorry to say that Delia is wrong, but John is right. You can say Rebecca is the younger of my two daughters or Rebecca is younger than daughter B, (both comparision mode) and Rebecca is my youngest daughter (superlative). And since Rebecca is your youngest child of two girls and a boy, you can, of course, say Rebecca is my youngest child (and youngest daughter). We've to be specific when using the English language otherwise ambiguity creeps in. FYI, I'm a linguist and language tutor who teaches English, French, German and Spanish.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

I'd have to agree with Brandon on the issue of clarity. I am the oldest, but I sometimes refer to my two brothers as "my oldest brother" versus "my youngest brother" although they are both my younger brothers. However, I also find that people are confused by this and then think that my oldest brother is also my older brother.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

"My older brother" can refer to either a brother who is older than me or who is younger than me. Just the same as "my oldest brother." It all has to do with context. You can use the superlative of two and be just as clear or just as not clear as not using the superlative of two.

MW Dictionary of English Usage:
The common assertion of the grammarians, that the superlative degree is not applicable to two objects, is not only unsupported by any reason in the nature of things, but is contradicted in practices by almost every man who affirms it.

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Is there an English teacher that can state which is the preferred; younger or youngest?

Thank you,

1 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

@Dean Harris - did you actually read anything John, goofy, mighty red pen and Logan said? Or follow up on their references? - here is a link for MWDEU to make it easy -

http://books.google.pl/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&am...

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Younger for comparison of two of the same kind of thing, youngest for more than two of the same kind of thing. Your husband seems to be combining his "youngest child" and his "daughter" in a sort of portmanteau shorthand that doesn't logically follow. If I were you I'd smile indulgently at him and tell him unless he doesn't have another daughter you don't know about somewhere, and as long as your son isn't an XX, you'll let him mangle the language to his heart's content.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

My friend is having this problem with a wedding annoucement. The groom is has one older brother and one older sister. Weren't sure if it should be "engaged to X, younger son of Y and Z" or "engaged to X, youngest son of Y and Z'? I think I prefer "younger son."

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

This is known as the superlative of two. There's nothing wrong with it. Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage gives examples (page 881). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English notes that in speech there's nothing wrong with it.
http://www.bartleby.com/68/43/5843.html

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Amazed might be interested to know that the superlative of two has been used since at least the 17th century, and has been used by writers such as Fielding, Austen, Fowler (!), Hemmingway, and Boswell. Is Amazed still a purist?

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Of course, in math, is it not considered at all incorrect to have a superlative of one: "zero is the smallest integer which is neither positive nor negative". Or even superlative of zero: "The smallest integer which is both positive and negative does not exist".

I remember as a kid being told that there are some languages in which there are only three numbers: one, two, and "many". I thought that was rather odd, but it turns out that grammatically speaking, English is such a language: "she is my young daughter" (one), "she is my younger daughter" (two), "she is my youngest daughter" (many).

Jonah:
<We've to be specific when using the English language otherwise ambiguity creeps in. FYI, I'm a linguist and language tutor who teaches English, French, German and Spanish.>
That's odd. Are you unaware that contracting "have" when it's not being used to mark perfection is highly nonstandard?

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Yes, still a purist.
Sorry.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Well Amazed, i'm afraid i'm backing the "Superlative of two" team on this one. I study English linguistics at college and have always, correctly, used the Superlative form when talking about two subjects. Yes, it's standard and i'd say totally correct to do so.

0 vote Vote!  •  Permalink  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment