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Yesterday, I met my old cat.

What does old mean here? Does it refer to the age of cat or to the fact that the cat used to be my pet before I brought a new one?

The suspicion arose from the sentences like I met my old friend. and I met an old man., where old means 2 different things.

If in the first sentence, old conveys one meaning, how can I make the same adjective convey the other meaning?

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    "Yesterday, I met my old cat." - At first glance I think the sentence implies a cat that you previously owned and not the age. But it could also imply the age of the cat (further implying you owned more than one cat). This is probably because you are using "my old cat" instead of "an old cat". To your second question - I guess you would say "Yesterday, I met an old cat." just like in the sentence "I met an old man". That would imply that the cat is old and unknown to you. To my knowledge - under normal circumstances I don't think we use "meet" when the object is an animal. – Sid Mar 31 '17 at 4:25
  • @Sid If I had sold the cat and found the cat in a pet shop after a year, I guess it is okay to use meet. Under such circumstances, what would be the meaning of the sentence? – Aman Mar 31 '17 at 4:29
  • It's ambiguous and odd. I don't understand the context of the sentence, so it's difficult to judge what "old" might mean here. What were you doing when you met your cat? Going to visit your parents' house? – Andrew Mar 31 '17 at 4:34
  • @Aman - If the context is that you are meeting a former pet in a store a year later then the "old" indicates former acquaintanceship and not the age of the pet. But then the sentence seems ambiguous, I would use "Yesterday, I saw my old cat in the pet store". – Sid Mar 31 '17 at 4:34
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    @Aman, one way that you can get the old (age) meaning is to insert another adjective between my and old. This eliminates the previous meaning. "Yesterday I met my dear old cat." Note that there are rules for adjective ordering, so you couldn't, for example, add the cat's colour in this location. – JavaLatte Mar 31 '17 at 7:14
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The problem you are addressing is fairly understood. The adjective "old" can convey multiple different meanings in different contexts (this is very important). Very much depends on the context and the intonation in either written or spoken English.

There are certain ways an adjective can change the meaning of a sentence.

Look at the image below that can help you find out some of the most popular meaning of the word "old": A Parallel Of Words by Dr. Anthony Lightfoot

In the sentence "Yesterday, I met my [old] cat." the possessive adjective (a specific determiner) "my" makes us assume (or realize) that the "cat" which "my" refers to is a familiar one. In this case it will most likely mean "a cat I know" or "a cat that belonged to me (in the past)"

In order not to confuse the reader it is better to either add a second modifier (adjective), add a restrictive/non-restrictive relative clause after the possessive adjective+adjective+noun, or use a possessive pronoun and a restrictive/non-restrictive relative clause after it:

  1. Yesterday, I met my aged (elderly) old cat.
  2. Yesterday, I met my old, old cat. (Notice the comma)
  3. Yesterday, I met my old cat that (which) is old. (The possessive adjective and a restrictive relative clause)
  4. Yesterday, I met my old cat, which is old. (The possessive adjective and a non-restrictive relative clause)
  5. Yesterday, I met an old cat of mine that (which) is old. (The possessive pronoun and a restrictive relative clause)
  6. Yesterday, I met an old cat of mine, which is old. (The possessive pronoun and a non-restrictive relative clause)

It all depends on what you wish to say and whether the extra information about the age of the cat is essential or not.

You can also rephrase the sentence in different ways (here's one of them):

  • Yesterday, I met the cat that used to be my pet before I brought a new one. (based on your example)

Notice that you can also do it with a Possessive Pronoun or an Object pronoun:

  • Yesterday, I met the cat that used to be mine before I brought a new one.
  • Yesterday, I met the cat which used to belong to me before I brought a new one.
  • In the second sentence, "Yesterday, I met my old, old cat." , which old refers to age? – Aman Apr 1 '17 at 3:15
  • The second adjective refers to age. – SovereignSun Apr 1 '17 at 5:05

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