7

"Yo tengo dos hijos" means I have two children or I have two sons. I assume this means "children" by default, but how do you then say: "I have two sons"?

Of course, I could add "Y no hijas" but this seems clunky (at least to me as a native English speaker).

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12

Check ¿Por qué el género masculino suele dominar a la hora de referirse a colectivos?

Feminine is the "exclusive" gender, while masculine is the "inclusive". From RAE's guidelines

El uso genérico del masculino se basa en su condición de término no marcado en la oposición masculino/femenino. Por ello, es incorrecto emplear el femenino para aludir conjuntamente a ambos sexos, con independencia del número de individuos de cada sexo que formen parte del conjunto. Así, los alumnos es la única forma correcta de referirse a un grupo mixto, aunque el número de alumnas sea superior al de alumnos varones.

This means of course that if you say

Tengo dos hijas

It is clear that both are girls. If you had 10 children, 9 of them girls and one boy, you would still say "Tengo diez hijos". When saying

Tengo dos hijos

The ambiguity of the language doesn't give you enough information to know if both are boys if if they are one boy and one girl (and you can extend this rule to other groups, like the alumnos of the example).

To avoid the ambiguity of the language you'll need to be explicit about the gender, if you want to give that extra information to the person you are talking to:

Tengo dos hijos varones

Tengo treinta alumnos en clase, veinte de ellos alumnas.

Update:

If you want to say that you have two children and both are male (and avoid the ambiguity users point out in the comments), you could say

Tengo dos hijos, los dos varones

Tengo dos hijos, ambos varones

which conveys that the two of them are male, as opposed to only one of them (or other proportion).

Tengo treinta alumnos en clase, veinte de ellos alumnas.

Tengo treinta alumnos en clase, todos varones.

Tengo treinta alumnas en clase (this already makes clear all of them are female. No need of further disambiguation).

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    +1 Tengo dos hijos varones is a very simple and natural option. – Gorpik Mar 30 at 14:18
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    ¿No creéis de todos modos que tengo dos hijos varones no zanja el debate sobre si solamente tienes dos hijos en total? Es decir, no queda claro si también tienes hijas o no :) – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Mar 30 at 14:19
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    @fedorqui'SOstopharming', por supuesto. Como lo haría "I have two sons (by the way, I also have three daughters, for a total of five children)". Aunque en inglés tengas Children -> son/daughter y Parent -> padre/madre sigue habiendo ambigüedad en el lenguaje. Hay además un *principio de economía en el lenguaje*. Todavía recuerdo cuando nuestra _midwife nos dijo que tenía "3 o 4 hijos" (y yo pensaba "cómo no vas a saber cuántos hijos tienes???") Luego aclaró que tenía 3 de su anterior matrimonio y otro que venía de su matrimonio actual (con otra mujer). – Diego Mar 30 at 15:50
  • "ellos alumnas" It's interesting that this context allows you to have a feminine adjective modifying a masculine noun. – Acccumulation Mar 31 at 17:15
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    @Acccumulation it's not an adjective but another noun. – brazofuerte Apr 1 at 17:14
4

Tengo dos hijos varones, to make sure that both of my children are males. If I say ' tengo dos hijos', it may be understood that I may have one or two daughters, in case that I don't want to specify the gender.

In Spanish, there are a lot of things understood by the context, and in this case, in a generic context I would say 'tengo dos hijos varones' but it can be possible to say 'tengo dos hijos' in some contexts.

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    But if you say "Tengo dos hijos varones", you could have 7 daughters as well. – Eric Duminil Mar 31 at 16:40
  • true, you would need to rely on the context (even though 7 daughters... man! you were busy!). There is no translation perfect in my opinion, but this one is close enough – Iria Apr 1 at 7:45
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    @EricDuminil that's true in English as well, right? – Toivo Säwén Apr 1 at 8:53
  • @ToivoSäwén: Yes, indeed. – Eric Duminil Apr 2 at 7:33
2

To convey that one has two sons and no daughters, a more natural way could be: Tengo dos hijos, los dos varones.

More formally: Tengo dos hijos, ambos varones.

And an even more natural way: Tengo dos hijos, chicos los dos. Although chicos could be understood as ambiguous too, it is less commonly used in an inclusive way; furthermore, used as clarification is not ambiguous because if it were used inclusively it would be absolutely redundant.

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  • I would not use 'tengo dos hijos, chicos los dos' because in Mexico something else can be understood, that your kids are young – Iria Apr 1 at 7:43
  • @Iria - Yes, I know it works in Spain just because "pequeños" would be used instead of "chicos" to mean young in "young children". In other places "chicos" is common with other meanings and it wouldn't desambiguate the sentence. – Pere Apr 1 at 14:52
1

If you want to say "I have two sons" in Spanish, you have to say "(yo) Tengo dos hijos".

As you have very well noticed, there is an ambiguity in the sentence in respect to the English counterpart, well, all languages present ambiguity in any other respect and this is one case of the Spanish language.

Then, you have the alternatives already remarked to clear out this ambiguity, like "Tengo dos hijos varones" ore some other valid formula.

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