One day, Sonny sees a bruise on Connie's face and she tells him that Carlo hit her after she asked him if he was having an affair.

if "he" means Sonny, why she diverting topic here ?


  • 2
    "He" refers to Carlo, first "him" refers to Sonny, second "him" refers to Carlo. – Peter Sep 1 '16 at 3:27
  • @user36411 What do you mean by "diverting topic?" Also, can you help us, please? We would like to know if a teacher, instructor, or online course told you to read IMDB movie reviews as an exercise to help you learn English. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 1 '16 at 4:50
  • This is from Godfather. Carlo hit Connie when she asked her if he was having an affer. Then Sonny sees a bruise on her face and asks her about it and she tells him what happened. So in this summery the "he" you are questioning is reffering to Carlo not Sonny! – user33000 Sep 2 '16 at 6:13

It is grammatically ambiguous which person he refers to.

Consider the following sentences, where Tom and Harry are male, and Sally is female:

  • When Tom called Sally, he told her about the bus.
  • When Sally called Tom, he told her about the bus.
  • When Tom called Harry, he told him about the bus.

In the first two, it's clear who he refers to because there aren't any other male names in each sentence. However, note that he can refer to either the person who called, or the person who was called. This makes the third sentence ambiguous, since he (and him) can refer to either Tom or Harry.

When grammar fails to disambiguate, sometimes the context can help. Consider the following example, where I have placed X, Y and Z in brackets to make it easy to refer to specific instances of he later.

  • Tom didn't have a car. When Harry drove over, he (X) asked if he (Y) could try driving his car. Naturally, he (Z) declined.

Here, the context makes clear who the 3 instances of he refer to. The phrase "he declined" meant that Z didn't want Z's car to be driven. Since Tom doesn't have a car, Z=Harry. Since Harry answered, Tom must have asked, so X=Tom. And since it wouldn't make sense for Tom to ask if Harry could drive his own car - and even less for Harry to decline, Y=Tom.

Let's return to your example. "He" could refer grammatically to Sonny or Carlo. We can establish this by pretending the other name is female, and checking whether the sentence still makes sense grammatically - it does.

Now we look at the context. Let's call the 3 pronouns (him, him, he) P, Q and R, in the order they appear in your sentence. Grammatically, it's clear that P=Sonny. There are 4 possibilities remaining for Q and R. Here are some potential scenarios in each case, together with an excuse that Carlo might offer for his aggression.

  1. Q=Sonny, R=Carlo: Carlo overheard Connie asking Sonny about Carlo. Carlo felt humiliated.
  2. Q=Sonny, R=Sonny: Carlo overheard Connie asking Sonny about Sonny. Carlo felt protective of Sonny.
  3. Q=Carlo, R=Sonny: Connie questioned Carlo about Sonny. Carlo felt protective of Sonny.
  4. Q=Carlo, R=Carlo: Connie questioned Carlo about Carlo. Carlo felt unfairly accused.

Many would say that #4 is the most plausible reconstruction, but the fact that the others cannot be immediately dismissed means that in this case, there is insufficient context within the sentence to disambiguate. More context would be needed.

As for why Connie changed the subject in the case of #1 or #3, the sentence you provided doesn't tell us.

  • @Avicenna In your scenario, Q=Carlo and R=Carlo. That's case #4, which my answer already indicates is the most plausible reconstruction. Have I understood your pair of comments correctly? Also, my main point is that the sentence is ambiguous and the ambiguity cannot be definitively resolved with the given information. That is, the OP's sentence has multiple potential interpretations (#1 to #4 in my answer) that both the grammar and the context (just one sentence) fail to disambiguate. – Lawrence Sep 2 '16 at 7:13
  • @Avicenna No problem, and thanks for commenting :) . I'm not familiar with the movie, so I just answered based on the information provided. – Lawrence Sep 2 '16 at 7:28

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