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    #1

    son of a poor farmer

    Mr Brown was son/ a son/ the son of a poor farmer.

    Are the three expressions all fine? What are the differences between them?
    Could I ask native speakers to help me with these questions? Thank you in advance.


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    #2

    Thumbs up Re: son of a poor farmer

    Dear Friend,
    You can use either He was a son of a poor farmer. or He was the son of a poor farmer. But not He was son of a poor farmer. The meaning of the first sentence is that The farmer has many sons and he is one of them. and in the second sentence you talk about the particular son which had already been refered to in the spoken context.

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    #3

    Re: son of a poor farmer

    This is the beginning of a passage in our textbooks which introduces President Lincoln to the students:

    Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Kentucky. He was ____ (the, a) son of a poor farmer. ...

    The text uses the structure of 'the son of a poor farmer', but I wonder if we can also use 'a son of a poor farmer' and what the difference is. And I read in a grammar book written by a Chinese professor of English this sentence:

    He was son of a poor farmer.

    I doubt that it is a fine sentence. Thus comes my question above.

    Could I ask native speakers to help me please? Thank you in advance.s

  1. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: son of a poor farmer

    As mahantarvind has explained, both 'the son' and 'a son' are correct, depending on whether he was the only son or one of two or more sons.
    He was son of a poor farmer. This is not correct.
    Last edited by bhaisahab; 16-Feb-2009 at 14:16.

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    #5

    Re: son of a poor farmer

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    As mahantarvind has explained both 'the son' and 'a son' are correct, depending on whether he was the only son or one of two or more sons.
    He was son of a poor farmer. This is not correct.
    Thank you very much, bhaisahab. After reading your posting, I searched the British National Corpus (BYU-BNC) and Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), the results are as follows:

    BNC: [be] a son of a / [be] the son of a 2/66
    AC: [be] a son of a / [be] the son of a 50/266

    The results are surprising: In both cases, how can there be so few people who have brothers and so many people who are the only son?

    Is it possible that when we talk about Mr X, we refer to him as 'the son of a poor farmer' because our conversation or article has nothing to do with his brother(s) and we needn't mention his brother(s)?

    Thank you again.

  2. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: son of a poor farmer

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    Is it possible that when we talk about Mr X, we refer to him as 'the son of a poor farmer' because our conversation or article has nothing to do with his brother(s) and we needn't mention his brother(s)?

    Thank you again.

  3. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: son of a poor farmer

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    Mr Brown was son/ a son/ the son of a poor farmer.

    Are the three expressions all fine? What are the differences between them?
    Could I ask native speakers to help me with these questions? Thank you in advance.
    In American English, "Mr. Brown was a son..." does not imply that the farmer has more than one son, and "Mr. Brown was the son..." does not imply that there was only one son. Neither implies a number. They mean the same thing.

    However, "the son" is more common usage, so "the son" is the best choice - no matter how many sons the farmer had.

    [I edit copy and have tutored college writing.]

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