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I Can’t Be Related to Both of Them

My wife’s grandmother died on Friday one month shy of her 105th birthday. Like with any death, family comes into town for the funeral. This got me thinking about relationships.

My wife’s brother is in town. He is my brother-in-law. What about his wife? What is her relation to me?

Most people I ask would say that she is my sister-in-law. But she’s not. She’s my brother-in-law’s wife. She has no relationship to me.

Think about it. If she’s my sister-in-law, that would make her my brother-in-law’s sister. But they’re married people, and married people aren’t siblings, at least not normally.

Biologically speaking, if her genes and my genes were to mix, there wouldn’t be any incest-related defects. We’re separated far enough in the gene pool.

You simply can’t be related to both halves of a married couple in this example. In fact, I assert that you never can be related to both halves of a married couple.

In-law is defined as “a relationship by marriage.” But that’s too incomplete.

My wife is related to her brother, but his wife isn’t her sister-in-law. She’s her brother’s wife. Just like I said before, if they were sisters-in-law, that would make her brother and his wife siblings, and it isn’t true.

So, call your sibling’s spouse whatever you’d like. Just remember that they’re really not in-laws.

Until next time! Use the right words!


July 16, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Does this make the others outlaws?

    Comment by SFL | July 19, 2012 | Reply

  2. A google search shows that most dictionaries (e.g. the American Heritage, Merriam Webster, Random House, Macmillian) have three definitions of sister-in-law, with “the wife of the brother of one’s spouse ” being the third. I only found one (Collins English dictionary) with only two definitions.

    Comment by Jackie | July 20, 2012 | Reply

  3. Made you look, Jackie!

    Comment by usingtherightwords | July 23, 2012 | Reply

  4. You say…”So, call your sibling’s spouse whatever you’d like. Just remember that they’re really not in-laws.”
    But in fact they ARE in-laws. That’s one of the definitions. But my spouse and my sibling’s spouse are not related.

    Comment by Anne Davies | July 26, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Anne. Thanks for the comment. Of course, the definition of in-law covers what you say, and I have had others point that out. Clearly I am in the minority here. My point is, taken to its literal extreme, the words prove you can’t be related to both parts of a married couple because, again using the words literally, the married couple would have to be siblings, which isn’t the case. If you have a sister who’s married, that man is your brother-in-law. So how can his wife be a sister-in-law? There is no genetic link between your sibling’s spouse and your sibling’s spouse’s spouse. Hence, no relation. hence, no in-law.

      Comment by usingtherightwords | July 27, 2012 | Reply

  5. If I have a sister who is married, as you say, that man (presumably you are referring to her husband), that man is my brother-in-law. You say that his wife is not a sister-in-law. But she is… to my husband. But my sister’s spouse’s spouse is still my sister.

    Comment by Anne Davies | August 21, 2012 | Reply

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