If someone says "X and Y are different.", does it only mean "X is different from Y."? Is there any chance in which it means "X is identical to Y but both are different from others."?


1 Answer 1


You're right that it's ambiguous. It could mean either of the following:

  1. X and Y are different from each other.  (joint interpretation)
  2. X and Y are different from Z.     (distributive interpretation)

In the joint interpretation you're considering X and Y as a single unit.

In the distributive interpretation, you're considering X and Y individually, so the second meaning can be rephrased as follows:

  1. X is different from Z, and Y is different from Z.

This is a little different from what you said in your question – there is no implication that X and Y are identical. They could be the same, or they could be different. But you're right that it's ambiguous whether X and Y are different from each other or from something else.

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