his ex-wife

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his ex-wife

Post by azz » Tue Sep 01, 2020 1:05 am

a. I met Tom's ex-wife at a dinner party last night.

Could one use that sentence if one knows that Tom has more than one ex-wife and one hasn't been talking about a particular ex-wife? So context does not clarify which ex-wife I am talking about. I just say the sentence out of the blue.

I think the correct way would be to say:
b. I met one of Tom's ex-wives at a dinner party last night.

But I think people would use (a) instead of (b).

Many thanks
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Re: his ex-wife

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Sep 01, 2020 3:40 am

That all depends greatly on what Phil would call the pragmatics attached to the utterance.

If you had recently been discussing a particular ex-wife of Tom's with your interlocutor, or if she had come to the attention of you both for some other reason (being mentioned in the news, for instance), they would probably assume that this is who you meant, especially if they were unaware that he had been divorced more than once.

If you had not been discussing any of Tom's ex-wives, your interlocutor would probably ask you to clarify which ex-wife you meant if they knew Tom had more than one (unless they were not interested in the topic or wanted to steer away from it for some other reason).

Whether you would be more likely to say a) or b) would depend partly on what assumptions you had made about your interlocutor's knowledge of Tom's exes, and partly on your degree of thoughtfulness and considerateness in taking that factor into account -- unless you had a reason for being deliberately vague.
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Re: his ex-wife

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:39 pm

Being someone who has been married three times, if you said that you had seen my ex-wife in the pub I would probably ask which one. As would my (current) wife.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: his ex-wife

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Sep 02, 2020 2:52 pm

Bobinwales wrote: Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:39 pmif you said that you had seen my ex-wife in the pub I would probably ask which one.
It sounds as if your ex doesn't have a favourite drinking spot.
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