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I have enough Unicoins to buy "Guaranteed answer" today.

So, instead of asking how to parse only one sentence as I should, I will ask "how to parse these following seven sentences". (Why ask one if I can ask seven! grin)

  1. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.
  2. The horse raced past the barn fell.
  3. The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.
  4. The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.
  5. Anyone who feels that if so many more students whom we haven't actually admitted are sitting in on the course than ones we have that the room had to be changed, then probably auditors will have to be excluded, is likely to agree that the curriculum needs revision.
  6. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
  7. This exceeding trifling witling, considering ranting criticizing concerning adopting fitting wording being exhibiting transcending learning, was displaying, notwithstanding ridiculing, surpassing boasting swelling reasoning, respecting correcting erring writing, and touching detecting deceiving arguing during debating.

Sources of sentences: 1. Groucho Marx; 2. Bever (1970); 3. Wikipedia; 4. Chomsky & Miller (1963); 5. Chomsky & Miller (1963); 6. William Rapaport; 7. Goold Brown (1851). -- via: 7 Sentences That Sound Crazy But Are Still Grammatical | Mental Floss

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closed as too broad by waiwai933 Apr 3 '14 at 4:35

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

By the way, I opted for "wise answer" when I bought "Guaranteed answer". – Damkerng T. Apr 1 '14 at 3:43
Tagged: april-fools – snailplane Apr 1 '14 at 5:04
Add more: That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is AND It is true for all that that that that that that that refers to is not the same that that that that refers to – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 9:38
I have a couple of also-rans: I think we need a little more space between pig and and and and and whistle. What did you bring the book I didn't want to be read to out of up for? – BobRodes Apr 2 '14 at 18:33
See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/15028/… for more about sentence 1. – Hellion Apr 2 '14 at 21:07

11 Answers 11

Jesus. I can't answer all of them because I only have ten minutes.

4: The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.

I'm going to slowly build the sentence.

1: The rat ate the malt.
2: The cat killed the rat.
3: The rat (that the cat killed) ate the malt.
4: The dog chased the cat.
5: The cat (that the dog chased) killed the rat.
6: The rat (that the cat killed) ate the malt.
7: The rat (that the cat (that the dog chased) killed) ate the malt.
8: The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.

Reword it as you please. This is all I can offer; please feel free to scrub this answer or add to it.

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+1 WOW! How could you do this. I loved it! – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 9:25
Yep, it's called multiple center embedding. It rarely occurs in natural speech but there are occasionally genuine examples. – snailplane Apr 1 '14 at 9:40
@snailplane Yes, I knew 'buffalo', 'that', 'had' examples bu this one I simply loved. Especially the way MMJZ wrote! :) Cannot vote twice :( – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 9:49
The examples people I know actually use work fine. – Luke Apr 1 '14 at 20:41

..and #5.

Anyone who feels that if so many more students whom we haven't actually admitted are sitting in on the course than ones we have that the room had to be changed, then probably auditors will have to be excluded, is likely to agree that the curriculum needs revision.

Breaking it down:

Anyone who feels
   that if
      so many more
            whom we haven't actually admitted
         are sitting in on the course
            we have
      that the room had to be changed,
   then probably auditors will have to be excluded,
is likely to agree
   that the curriculum needs revision.

Or, in other words:

  • More auditors (non-admitted students) than admitted students are sitting in on the course.
  • There are so many more such auditors than admitted students that the room had to be changed.
  • Some people may think that if the room had to be changed because of this issue, then auditors should not be allowed to sit in on the course.
  • The people who think so will likely agree that a curriculum revision is needed.
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I'll pick the 6th:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

It has three buffalo's - buffalo the animal, buffalo the city and buffalo the bullying. Now it makes it easy for us to understand.


Buffalo buffalo (buffalo from the city Buffalo) [that] Buffalo buffalo buffalo (that the buffalo from the city Buffalo bully) buffalo Buffalo buffalo (are bullying buffalo from the city Buffalo)

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:^) I don't think this one is ever "easy" to understand – but that's just my opinion. – J.R. Apr 1 '14 at 9:51
@J.R. It actually happened. This looked weird but when my guru told that he'll give a clue and there are three buffalo's (the animal, city and bullying), I tried and could paraphrase. The capital 'B' makes it a bit easy to understand. The beauty of this sentence is the author smartly managed to avoid the articles taking buffalo as a plural noun and so also changing the verb. – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 9:56
And if I remember right, you can make a grammatically correct buffalo sentence which contains any number of repetitions of the word buffalo. – Tim Seguine Apr 1 '14 at 12:50
@TimSeguine Fun fact, this also works with any combination of the words "fish" and "people", as well as "buffalo". You don't actually need the city, it's just funnier that way. You only need words that are both a verb, and a noun whose singular is the same as its plural. "Fish" can mean "some fish" or "to fish", people can mean "some people" or "to people". "Buffalo fish people", "fish buffalo people" and "buffalo people buffalo fish people" are all syntactically (though not necessarily semantically) correct sentences. (Even without also using "fish people" meaning "fish-like people".) – neminem Apr 1 '14 at 17:32
Can we just swap in different words? London cows [that] London cows bully, bully London cows. – Phil H Apr 2 '14 at 14:31

Taking #3, the easiest one out of the lot...

The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

Breaking it down:

  • The complex houses soldiers. (= the soldiers live / have housing in the complex)

  • The complex houses married and single soldiers. (= both single and married soldiers live in the complex)

  • The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families. (= both single and married soldiers live in the complex, along with their families)

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This one is easy, like you say, but I'll admit that it threw me on my first pass – I initially assumed that complex was an adjective, meaning "complicated" and houses was a noun meaning "dwellings." Once I realized those were both wrong, I backed up, started over, and had no problem envisioning a housing complex near an army base. – J.R. Apr 1 '14 at 9:56
Yeah. The complex (the dwelling) houses (gives shelter to) married and single soldiers and their families. – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 10:04

Your first example relies on a double meaning.

On the first read through, the first sentence will most likely be interpreted as:

One morning I shot an elephant [while I was wearing] my pajamas.

That is, Groucho was wearing his pajamas while he shot the elephant.

Upon reading the second sentence though, we realize Groucho had a much more absurd alternative in mind, namely:

One morning I shot an elephant [which was] in my pajamas.

Groucho then expresses his amazement that the elephant managed to get inside of his pajamas (perhaps while he was still wearing them).

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Could there be three meanings? 1. as you have said, I was wearing the pyjamas 2. the elephant was wearing my pyjamas, 3. the elephant was in the pyjamas I was wearing (think of it as a mouse in your pyjamas). The result of version 3 could be quite nasty. – cup Apr 2 '14 at 11:56
@cup I sort of implied that in my answer I thought. The way I see it, the quote leaves it open as to which of your 2 or 3 is meant by the second sentence. Shall I make that more explicit? – Tim Seguine Apr 2 '14 at 17:43
How do you stop an elephant from charging? Take away his credit card. – BobRodes Apr 2 '14 at 18:30

How I, a dyslexic, parse #3

3: The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

  1. Oh! House is a noun! So the sentence must be talking about houses.
  2. Married is a verb, so the houses married something.
  3. Complex is an adjective. So far i know that weird looking houses married something.
  4. and single soldiers... hmm... oh the houses got married, and the single soldiers got married too!
  5. The soldiers families got married too! Wow what a wonderful story.

In school, the teachers taught us a way to parse sentences and get what they actually mean.

  1. find verbs
  2. find the subject
  3. find prepositions
  4. find the ends of the prepositional phrases
  5. find direct objects
  6. everything else is an adjective
  7. if it doesn't make sense, start over.
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I love this. I didn't realize this parse was possible until you pointed it out, but now it's my favorite way to read it. – snailplane Apr 2 '14 at 1:18

Ahem! Now taking the garden path sentence, the second one.

The horse raced past the barn fell.

It can be paraphrased as...

The horse (that was) raced past the barn, fell!

The trap here is due to the lexical category of the word raced which can be either a past-tense verb or a passive participle. Replace the horse and race and make the sentence. It'll be clear then!

The bike ridden past the barn rammed into something.

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+1, but, I think that the comma after "that was" shouldn't be there. – Damkerng T. Apr 1 '14 at 12:27
@DamkerngT. put it into parenthesis. – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 12:29
It's almost perfect. It would be perfect if there were a comma after "The horse", before "(that was)". – Damkerng T. Apr 1 '14 at 12:31
I wonder if this sentence could also be interpreted differently, with "fell" as a noun? One meaning of "fell" is "an amount of timber cut", so could "the barn fell" technically also mean the fell that's next to the barn? – Alicja Z Apr 1 '14 at 12:56
Wouldn't the sentence "The bike rode past the barn rammed into something" technically be, "The bike ridden past the barn..."? The bike was not rode, it was ridden. Rode is not used for passive voice. – Wally Apr 1 '14 at 14:23

I take this one:

The horse raced past the barn fell.

From merriam-webster.com:

Definition of FELL
dialect British
: a high barren field or moor

The horse raced past a barren piece of land that happens to have a barn on it.

(Now go and correct your English teachers if they ever try to use this sentence as an example! Or in my case, Computer Science (Natural Language Processing) professors!)

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I find that replacing the various "buffalo"s with (near-)synonyms helps make it more understandable.

Let's start by repeating the initial sentence:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Now let's replace Buffalo the city with nearby Blasdell, buffalo the animal with bison, and buffalo the verb with bewilder.

Blasdell bison Blasdell bison bewilder bewilder Blasdell bison.

That's easier to understand, right? No? Okay, well, let's get rid of the synonyms altogether and swap them out for just similar parts of speech.

The town name is an attributive noun, the animal is a plural noun, and the verb is a present-tense verb. So, to pick other words instead:

Baseball boys baseball boys bonk bonk baseball boys.

Now that we've gotten further away from these unfamiliar notions of extinct cattle and mythical non-New-York New York cities, and the obviously intentionally confusing verbs, the meaning is much clearer.

No? I guess it still sounds kind of provincial, what with the reference to baseball. Let's try something a little more worldly. And the sports and reference to young men might lead some to think me a misogynist. (Not to mention the potential meaning of "bonk". I assure you I intended it to refer to beaning a batter in the brain with a ball.) So let's move back to animals: more commonplace this time. And I'm starting to tire of your inability to understand this, which prompts a verb.

So let's try one last time:

Boer boar Boer boar bore bore Boer boar.

If you don't get it now, I just don't know that there's any hope for you.

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So what you're saying is, town-specific animals (that are bewildered by the town-specific animals) bewilder the town-specific animals! – Wally Apr 2 '14 at 18:13

I will attempt to take #7, the longest one here! Let's go:

This self-avowed smart person that is extremely unimportant or otherwise overly-nitpicky,

Which was trying to decide to rant, which would be considered a criticism about choosing appropriate words which are currently showing a level of knowledge above normal educational levels

Was [actually] doing 3 things:

  1. Showing (despite the fact that it was making fun of) the ability to reason which was worthy of bragging far beyond anything else,
  2. Respecting the fixing of incorrect writing, and
  3. Briefly mentioning being able to find deceptive arguments during usually-structured argumentative speeches.
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Lovely! I was afraid that nobody would try #7. By the way, I think you meant "above normal educational levels". Also, I think he was doing only two things (it's the showing respecting incorrect writing). – Damkerng T. Apr 1 '14 at 14:47
@DamkerngT. Correct: I did mean "above." About the two/three-action question, it could be interpreted either way. The "respecting correcting erring writing" could be a phrase describing "reasoning" and therefore there's only two actions in the main sentence: displaying and touching. – Wally Apr 1 '14 at 15:07

Okay, here I try for #1

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.

I'll build a story for the first clause ;)

It was damn hectic schedule last week and we all were too fed up. We finally decided to go to the jungle nearby. It was a picnic and I wanted to fulfill my hunger of 'hunting'. We reached on Saturday night. On the next day, we had planned to go out in the jungle for hunting.

The Sunday was terribly hot that I never expected. So, I wore a loose tee and loose pajamas. Frankly, that clothes gave me no pain and I was very comfortable.

Whilst others wore tight jeans, I was in my pajamas. We were walking and suddenly, an elephant started chasing us and everybody started running. I could easily run as I was in my pajamas whereas others had to try hard in their jeans. Finally, I shot that elephant. And remember, I was in my pajamas!

Ever since then, I tell my grandchildren this story with a pun ...

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas!

After Alicja Z's comment, I thought on the second clause and we can still make sense out of it. Though practically it's not possible but then the author wonders how it happened.

The second clause can be read ...

[One morning] [I] [shot] [an elephant in my pajamas]. - I really don't know when did he come to my tent, opened my bag, put on my pajamas and disappeared. Finally, I shot him and now, I'll get my pajamas back!

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@AlicjaZ Thank you! I thought for a while and could think of an answer for the second clause as well. – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 12:37
Actually, this one says nothing about how you were dressed, it only specifies what the elephant was wearing. (By the end of the first sentence, though, you're not supposed to realize that.) – J.R. Apr 1 '14 at 17:59
Yeah, the point is that the first sentence as written is ambiguous as to whether "in my pajamas" refers to the speaker or the elephant. You can't tell from the grammar alone which is meant. – swbarnes2 Apr 1 '14 at 20:38

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