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In sentence By continuing, you consent to our privacy policy and terms of use shown below. Can we tell for sure what is "shown below"? both the privacy policy and terms of use or just terms of use? Can we say the sentence is confusing? I mean if you are not able to check what is shown below.

Thank you

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  • By continuing, you consent to our privacy policy and terms of use shown below.

The "shown below" refers to both the privacy policy and the terms of use. The sentence isn't ambiguos. In order to separate them you can either place a comma or reprase the sentence:

  1. By continuing, you consent to our privacy policy, and terms of use shown below.
  2. By continuing, you consent to our privacy policy shown below, and to our terms of use.
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    Actually I think it is ambiguous, but most people assume that the writer means both. This kind of misplaced modifier is often used for humorous effect, as with Groucho Marx's famous "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know." – Andrew Sep 7 '17 at 15:55
  • @Andrew I agree with what you say but with "and" an Oxford's comma can fix this. You can always agree that most people know things by the logic. Nobody would reasonably think that the elephant was in his pajamas. – SovereignSun Sep 7 '17 at 16:01
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    That's the point -- the humor relies on what is reasonable and not what is grammatical. In the same way, in OP's example, it's reasonable to assume the instructions mean both are below, but you would have to completely restructure the sentence (as in your second example) to remove any ambiguity. Your first example is still somewhat ambiguous. Massive lawsuits have been won on less. – Andrew Sep 7 '17 at 16:08
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Yes, the sentence is technically ambiguous.

Consider this similar construction: "She redecorated the room by adding a new chair and new curtains on the window." Like your example, we have two nouns linked with "and", and then followed by a qualifying phrase. Would you understand this sentence to mean that both the chair and the curtains are on the window? Probably not. I think most readers would understand that to mean that the curtains are on the window and the chair is is not. The chair is probably on the floor.

To understand a sentence, we often have to combine a knowledge of grammar with knowledge of the context and apply common sense. As Andrew illustrates with the elephant in pajamas joke, many sentences are theoretically ambiguous if we just look at the grammar, but people routinely apply common sense to understand the meaning. Many jokes are based on pulling the rug out from under that common sense, and re-interpreting a sentence to a meaning that is consistent with the grammar but is not consistent with our common sense.

In this case, I think most readers would assume that both the privacy policy and the terms of use are "shown below". If that isn't what the writer meant, he should rewrite the sentence to make that clear.

BTW lawyers love to play word games like this. There are many court cases that are all about debating exactly what the words in a law or a contract mean, just what nouns a restrictive clause applies to, etc.

  • You're obviosly right but it's strange how people lack knowledge concerning the Oxford's comma. If there's no comma then the two things are grammatically together (not logically though), but if there's an Oxford's comma before "and" then that part is separate. I was tought that at school and I read it in Swan's grammar books. So the construction should be: "She redecorated the room by adding a new chair, and new curtains on the window" which is equivalent to: "She redecorated the room by adding new curtains on the window, and by adding a new chair". – SovereignSun Sep 8 '17 at 5:13
  • @SovereignSun Yes, a comma can clearly separate the two items and indicate that the qualifying clause only applies to one. But the absence of a comma doesn't necessarily mean that the qualifying clause applies to both. – Jay Sep 8 '17 at 13:37

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