Or more generally, how do you translate a single possessive with multiple nouns of varying gender and number? I imagine it might be handled in one of three ways:

  1. French just doesn't have that construct like English does, so you must write out all possessives. "Son père, sa mère, and ses frères vont a la plage."

  2. Agreement with first noun. "Son père, mère, et frères vont a la plage."

  3. Agreement with overall number. "Ses père, mère, et frères vont a la plage."

I know example #1 is at least valid, but what if you don't want to sound long-winded and write all the possessives?

2 Answers 2


First, usually (or always, according to some, though I’m not part of them) no comma before et introducing the last element of an enumeration. In this specific case, leave it out. Your first version is correct with two minor corrections:

Son père, sa mère et ses frères vont à la plage / se rendent à la plage.

Your number 2 is not usable in any case, since the possessive is singular and is to be distributed to many things (persons in this case, I guess).

Your third option, though incorrect (edit: it turns out I was convinced about being wrong here, this form is indeed used in formal speech, but very less so in casual speech about people going to the beach), is not as offensive as the second. I do not recommend you use it as is, since it not very French-like, but it could serve as a base to go through your enumeration a bit quicker, with the price of introducing it with an extra bit of information:

Sa famille, père, mère et frères, va à la plage / se rend à la plage.

The first part introduces the family, the subsequent enumeration details it. In both versions, the verb (va, se rend) is singular, since it describes the action of the singular family as a whole, and not of its many individual components.

  • 1
    Ses père, mère et frères vont à la plage is rare but definitely correct French.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 23:58
  • 1
    I’ll take your word for it, though in my sense of native French speaker, it would be either theatrical, strange, or the sign of a limited knowledge of French. I’ll agree that incorrect might have been too strong a word, though I maintain my opinion that normal people in normal life should choose something else. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 1:31
  • 1
    Someone with a limited knowledge of French correctly using this pattern would be lucky. This kind of compound subject is formal. It can be found in judicial documents and is common obituary notices (e.g. Mme X, ses frère, sœur et enfants ont la douleur…)
    – jlliagre
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 2:39
  • Part of my upvote goes specifically for the second suggestion, since since translation is so often improved by not sticking to the exact same strategy as the source language. :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 3:43
  • Another way to write this could be: Sa famille - père, mère et frères - va à la plage, or Sa famille - le père, la mère et les frères - va à la plage.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 4:01

You last sentence, with minor corrections already identified by Feelew, is rare but definitely correct and grammatical French:

Ses père, mère et frères vont à la plage.

This form of compound subject with possessive removal is formal. It is common when used with numerals like:

Cette année, les un, huit et vingt-cinq mai seront fériés.

With père, mère et frères, it is unlikely to be heard in spoken French because of the ambiguity introduced by a plural pronoun. There is little chance for the person to have more than one father or mother but we can't tell if (s)he has a single brother or more. The sentence is however perfectly acceptable in written French.

It is often found in obituary notices, e.g.:

Mme X, M. Y, ses sœur, frère et enfants ont la douleur de vous faire part du décès de …

  • 1
    Since it is quite commonly found in obituary notices, using it in everyday life... reminds one of an obituary - so use with caution ;-) When speaking, forget it :-)
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 3:21
  • 3
    Indépendamment du domaine où l'on pourrait le retrouver, l'idée d'économie dans la coordination est bel et bien réelle, à l'écrit du moins. On en a parfois des applications méconnaissables, comme avec les dates. Généralement, la suppression du déterminant est moins courante qu'avant (LBU 269), mais quand les éléments forment un tout étroitement lié (BDL), c'est un choix possible avec les dates quand on désire alléger le texte, ou peut-être éviter qu'une trop fréquente répétition ne créé une accentuation hormis ce contexte...
    – user3177
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 5:18

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