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When you say, "I opened the box to find his letter inside," which of the following does it mean?

A: I opened the box and (as a result) I found his letter inside. B: I opened the box in order to look for his letter inside.

Will you have to guess from the overall context?

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  • I think it would be analogous to "resultative" have. Option A. I opened the door only to have the wind slam it shut.
    – TimR
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:41
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    A has the clearest meaning. The intent of B could be written "I opened the box to look for his letter inside", or "I opened the box in order to find his letter inside". I wouldn't use find alone in this context because nothing has happened yet.
    – user3169
    Jul 7, 2017 at 22:41
  • As you surmise, the answer is entirely dependent upon the context. If you intend to express either A or B unabiguously, the sentence does not suit. Jul 8, 2017 at 3:06

2 Answers 2

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Neither of the options is unambiguously obvious in every situation, so context will definitely play a part. However, option (A) is more likely to be the implied meaning in such sentences.

As explained by @user3169 in the comments,

The intent of B could be written "I opened the box to look for his letter inside", or "I opened the box in order to find his letter inside".

This answer has been added since OP's question was sufficiently answered (in my opinion) in the comments by users @Tᴚoɯɐuo, @user3169 and @P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica, and this post did not have a well received answer already.

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"A: I opened the box and (as a result) I found his letter inside" is the correct meaning. You would use different phrasing if you meant B.

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    Please edit to include an explanation of why you think this is correct; answers without explanation do not teach the patterns of the language well. Jul 8, 2017 at 3:02

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