1

I was reading a sentence and asked to answer a True/False question:

Juan y Antonio viven con su hermano. The possessive adjective in bold is masculine and singular. True/False?

I thought that because Juan and Antonio make two people, and that they are the ones "owned" by their brother, I thought su would be the plural 3rd person i.e. "their" brother.

I thought the answer was false but it is actually true - the possessive adjective here in bold is masculine and singular.

I'm a bit confused.

Shouldn't the sentence be

Juan y Antonio viven con sus hermano?

What is the difference between

Juan y Antonio viven con su hermano. Juan y Antonio viven con sus hermano.

because I thought the second sentence was correct.

2

The difference is the number of the possesive. The first (su) is singular and the second (sus) is plural. They (Juan y Antonio) live with their brother (only one brother). For that reason you have to use the singular.

Examples:

  • Juan y Antonio viven con su hermano (Juan and Antonio live with their brother). Hermano is singular.
  • Juan vive con sus hermanos (Juan lives with his brothers). Hermanos is plural.
2

Juan and Antonio have a brother. We can talk about their brother (su hermano). "Brother" is a singular entity, so whatever modifier we put in front of "brother" / hermano (in this case "their" / su) will also be singular.

The subject, Juan and Antonio (=they) is plural, hence the choice "their" in English (instead of "his"). However, in Spanish, the possessive pronoun is always going to be su, regardless of whether the subject is singular ("he" / él, ella) or plural ("they" / ellos, ellas).

Let's step away from the possessive pronouns for a moment and look at this in action with a garden variety adjective.

Some dogs have a short tail.

Algunos perros tienen una cola cortita.

The subject (perros) and its modifier (algunos) are plural. The object (cola) and its modifier (cortita) are singular.

(If I were your instructor, I wouldn't care whether you classified su in the exercise as "singular" correctly. I'd care that you wrote a sentence that fit the family relationship, and I'd care that you understand these sorts of sentences.)

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