1

a. I talked to a man and woman.

b. I talked to a lean man and woman.


Does (a) mean they were together?

Does (b) mean they were together?

Does (b) mean they were both lean?

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c. I talked to a man and a woman.

d. I talked to a lean man and a woman.


Does (c) mean they were not together?

Does (d) mean they were not together?

Does (d) mean the woman was not lean?

Isn't (d) simply noncommittal as to whether the woman was lean or not?

3

The first thing to say is that there are substantial differences between what statements may suggest or imply and what they mean. What's more, context has a powerful bearing on both implications and meaning.

Your examples are bare - devoid of any context. As Ian E says, one can only draw inferences from them as to any relationship between the two individuals and their body types.

While it's common practice to omit the second article in some contexts - eg: I had a sandwich and milkshake for lunch - it doesn't work in all contexts. For instance to say: I saw a frog and balloon may be grammatical but it's puzzling and makes a listener wonder about the relationship between the two.

I'm similarly uncomfortable with your example: I talked to a man and woman. For me, this is awkward and requires a second article to be idiomatic.

It certainly doesn't mean that the two individuals were together and the implication, if any, is weak. This holds true for your other examples. They mean only what they state. Anything beyond that is what somebody chooses to read into them.

2
  1. (a) does imply that they were together.
  2. (b) does imply that they were together.
  3. (b) does imply that they were both lean.
  4. (c) does not eliminate the possibility that they were together.
  5. (d) does not eliminate the possibility that they were together.
  6. (d) does imply that it was only the man who was lean, not the woman. To convey that they were both lean, say, "I talked to a lean man and a lean woman," or say, "I talked to a lean man and woman."
0

An entertaining quiz with much amibiguity here, rather like the classic (punctuation) book Eats shoots and leaves, ( a man walks into a bar, eats, shoots and leaves, and then a panda ambles into the same bar and eats shoots and leaves).

You can make a few simple inferences from the sentences, but that is all. Thus

a) The single article 'a' implies the man and woman were a single object (in the subject-verb-object sense), thus the subject spoke to both of them on the same occasion, however it is not clear whether they spoke to both persons individually or as a pair. Their marital status is also unclear, however the subject would probably have described them as a couple if they knew them to be close.

b) As with (a), the lean man and woman were met on the same occasion, but it is ambiguous who was spoken to and is not clear whether the woman was lean or not.

c) The use of two articles 'a' implies the man and woman were two separate subjects. However it is not clear whether they were spoken separately at different times, or at the same time (and if the latter then whether both were individually spoken to or not).

d) In this case the two separate articles differentiate the man as lean and the woman as not lean, however it still does not clarify who was spoke to and when, as with (c)

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