The three students were given two notebooks.

I created the sentence above in order to describe that one student could not get the notebook.

I am afraid whether this sentence may be interpreted as follows:

Each of the three students was given two notebooks.

I would like to know how to describe my intended meaning more clearly.

  • As a learner: I think that doesn't mean "three students were given three notebooks each" – Cardinal Jun 19 '18 at 3:06
  • I interpret your first sentence as follows: the three students collectively received two notebooks. In other words, the two notebooks were shared between all three students. – Michael Rybkin Jun 19 '18 at 3:52
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    In my experience, while this sentence is technically potentially ambiguous and the answers would be less ambiguous ways to say this, most people will assume this is what you mean unless you explicitly include "each". – Sparksbet Jun 20 '18 at 17:13

If you want to avoid ambiguity, try one of the following:

The three students were given two notebooks to share.
The three students were given two notebooks to share among themselves.

You don't need to include among themselves, but it may sound better to you if you do.

  • If I'm reading this correctly, you're proposing either of these two versions: 1. "The three students were given two notebooks to share among themselves." 2. "The three students were given two notebooks to share." That is, I believe you're not suggesting the parentheses. Possible clarifying modification: quote both versions, writing them out directly in the form in which you're proposing them. – Mathieu K. Jun 19 '18 at 4:14
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    @MathieuK. I have modified my answer as you suggest, but I will note that it's common among answers here to include parenthetical information in the way I had it. You're the first person to question the literal inclusion of the parenthesis marks themselves. How ironic, however, if my first attempt at disambiguation caused ambiguity. ;) – Jason Bassford Jun 19 '18 at 4:28
  • Oh. Sorry; didn't realize it's a convention. – Mathieu K. Jun 19 '18 at 4:41

I'd say:

The three students as a group were given two notebooks.


The three students were given two sharing notebooks.

I'd rather the former.

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