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If I can say

Su madre busca a su hermana.

to mean

Your mother is looking for your sister.

And "su" can also be used to mean "their", then what if I want to say "Your mother is looking for their sister"? Because if "su" can be used for his/her/their/your (formal), then it leaves much ambiguity in this example.

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It might be worth mentioning that a very similar construct is ambiguous in English, as well... Consider: I was speaking to Jane's mother, and she is looking for her sister. -- Is Jane looking for Jane's sister? Is Jane looking for Jane's aunt? Is Jane's mother looking for Jane's sister? Is Jane's mother looking for Jane's aunt? –  Flimzy Feb 13 at 21:11
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Indeed Spanish has that ambiguity (it would be hard to find a language without ambiguities).

As you can see here, it is as you say. If you want to say

"Your mother is looking for their sister"

you say it

Tu/su/vuestra madre busca a su hermana.

You deduce from the context which su is meant in the sentence. If a risky misunderstood could arise use the (I'd say not so elegant) variant

Tu/su/vuestra madre busca a la madre de ellos.

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If you are saying your mother it will be very rare that you would use "su madre" because "su" is for the 2nd person "Usted", and that puts the sentence in a very rare context, talking to someone with a lot of respect and talking about his/her mother, not saying it's impossible but it will be very rare. If you fall in ambiguity you can add what's necessary to remove that, but I think the context could help, maybe while you're talking to the person who's mother is looking for the sister of the other people, you could point or make some gesture that can help you, remember that the bodt language is also very useful, anyway it could be like this:

Your mother is looking for your sister.

Tu madre busca a tu hermana.
Su madre busca a su hermana.

Your mother is looking for their sister.

Tu madre busca a su hermana.
Su madre busca a su hermana.
Vuestra madre busca a su hermana.(old-fashioned)
Tu madre busca a la hermana de ellos/ellas.
Su madre busca a la hermana de ellos/ellas.
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Is vuestra old-fashioned? I thought that was Spanish from Spain ;-) –  c.p. Feb 10 at 23:06
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who said that Spanish form Spain weren't old fashioned? =D –  El_Mochiq Feb 10 at 23:13
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