Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) tend to say that "My friends came with their wife, who were all blowing their nose." (no polygamy, a cold epidemic but no monstrosity either), whereas Germanic langagues tend to say that "My friends came with their wives, who were all blowing their noses." (!) Any explanation for the difference? Which is more represented in the Indo-European family of languages? Which would be the original way of seeing things and which a contamination by another family of languages? "Mes amis sont venus avec leur femme, qui toutes faisaient trompeter leur nez." ('blowing their noses' would be 'qui toutes se mouchaient' without any mention of the nose; that is why I chose 'qui toutes faisaient trompeter leur nez' which is not common at all but has the merit of including the word nose, in the singular, of course) I know I would write 'avec leur femme' even though following it with a verb in the plural does look strange, less so, however, if you add 'toutes', the way I did in the edited version.

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    Position is very important. If the other noun is far away from the first noun, then the number of the other noun is more flexible. "Wife" would seem impossible in the English example, but "nose" would be fine.
    – Cerberus
    Dec 5, 2013 at 23:06
  • "Their nose" works (after a manner) because in a certain register of English "their" is used to mean "his or her". But this is an entirely different issue.
    – fdb
    Dec 5, 2013 at 23:55
  • Hungarian language generally uses singulars, but there is one counterexample in the Arany János ballad „Szondi két apródja”.
    – b_jonas
    Dec 6, 2013 at 11:40
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    As a native Spanish speaker, not so sure: if I listen "Pedro, Juan y José vinieron con su esposa" I analyze it to mean only one of them brought his wife (who?), whereas "[...] vinieron con sus esposas" is much clearer. You could be even more specific adding "respectivas" or "sendas" before "esposas", to emphasize each friend came with his respective wife :)
    – Joe Pineda
    Jan 5, 2014 at 10:23
  • There are two potentially separate questions here, the number of 'wife' and that of 'nose'. Re the former at least I think you're wrong that it's singular in Romance: I'm fairly competent in French and Spanish (though not native in either) and would certainly say/write avec leurs femmes and con sus mujeres; the singular here looks wrong to me.
    – TKR
    Jan 7, 2014 at 4:34

1 Answer 1


In French you can write either “leur femme” or “leurs femmes”; both are considered correct. It is purely an orthographic issue, as the pronunciation is the same in both cases. But to write “leur femme (sing.), qui faisaient (pl.)” seems to me enormously illogical.

In Latin I would definitely say “Venerunt amici cum suis uxoribus”; to say “cum sua uxore” is wrong.

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    I'm not sure I agree with "It is purely an orthographic issue, as the pronunciation is the same in both cases": leur femme and leurs femmes are pronounced the same, but the issue also affects phrases that aren't, such as leur épouse vs. leurs épouses.
    – ruakh
    Dec 8, 2013 at 23:08
  • "leurs femmes" is correct? says who?
    – user58319
    Mar 7, 2014 at 13:15
  • @user58319, see this article in Le Figaro lefigaro.fr/lefigaromagazine/2011/01/08/…
    – Alex B.
    May 11, 2014 at 21:29
  • In this article, 'leurs femmes' might very well mean each of the dictator had more than one, successively!
    – user58319
    Jan 17, 2016 at 19:28

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