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Subject: extended survivors lists
Question: Obituaries often include lists with this grammatical structure: ''John Doe is survived by his children, Steve Doe and his wife, June; Will Doe and his wife, Janet; Susan Richards and her husband, Walter....'' It seems to me that the above is incorrect because, despite phrases like ''his wife'' and ''her husband,'' the wives and husbands still fall under the rubric of ''his [John Doe’s] children.'' So my first question would be, am I wrong about this?

According to obituary convention, you could write, ''his children, Steve (June) Doe, Will (Janet) Doe, and Susan (Walter) Richards.'' However, many families do not like how this looks. Would ''His children and their spouses'' followed by their names be right? I have some doubts about this because, without the word ''respectively,'' it’s potentially ambiguous. This brings me to my second question: Other than using parentheses, what would be the correct way to write this list?

I've asked these questions to several people and they all tend to do the same thing: they either argue that the in-laws should be left out or claim that they are ''his children'' by marriage. Both of these answers seem to be evading the question. I'm sure there are grammatical rules governing how lists like this work, rules that specify what's modifying what. From that perspective, I want to know if the above list is grammatical. If it were written like this, ''John Doe is survived by his children, Steve Doe and his dog, June; Will Doe and his cat, Janet; Susan Richards and her bird, Walter,'' would ''his children'' be including their pets?

Reply: Every newspaper has a style sheet that determines conventions for what is "correct" for
that particular newspaper; linguists are not the arbiters of what is "correct" or not. For
example, The New York Times didn't recognize the abbreviation Ms. in its style sheet
until 1986. There are no GRAMMATICAL rules in English that cover the wording of
obituaries; there might be in some other language where kinship terms are of greater
consequence. You are talking about questions of style, not grammar.
Reply From: Susan D Fischer      click here to access email
 
Date: 08-Sep-2013
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: extended survivors lists    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (17-Sep-2013)
  2. Re: extended survivors lists    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (09-Sep-2013)

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