2

a. The fruit I tasted was very soft and sweet.

It seems to me that (a) is ambiguous. It could mean

  1. The fruit I ate was very soft and very sweet.

or

  1. The fruit I tasted was very soft and it was also sweet.

depending on the context.

Would you say that is correct?

How can one avoid 'very' modifying 'sweet'?

Do these work

b. The fruit I tasted was sweet and very soft.

c. The fruit I tasted was sweet and also very soft.

d. The fruit I tasted was very soft, and sweet.

I think (d) might work in spoken English, but it still seems ambiguous to me. 'And sweet' seems to have been added on as an afterthought, and it is not clear whether the speaker meant 'very sweet' or just 'sweet'.

Many thanks.

4

Usually, there's no need to differentiate. If one states,

"The fruit I ate was very soft and sweet", then

No one would wonder whether the fruit is actually very sweet or simply sweet unless it was of critical importance (a judge's assessment of a fruit-growing contest?). If the sentence needs to state that the fruit is sweet but not very sweet, then another adjective must be added before "fruit" to denote the fruit's mediocrity.

"The fruit I ate was very soft and slightly sweet"

This isn't as much of an issue when the sentence can be conjoined with "yet" or "but", because then "very" applying to both of them is rather contradictory.

"The fruit I ate was very soft yet very rough on the outside"

1

Yes, the initial sentence is ambiguous.  

The fruit was very soft and sweet.

The word "very" is in the right position to modify the word "soft".  It's also in the right position to modify the coordination "soft and sweet". 

 

Options b. and c. resolve the ambiguity:

The fruit was sweet and [also] very soft.

The word "very" is in the right position to modify "soft".  It is not in a position to modify the surrounding coordination.  With or without the "also", this "very" applies only to "soft". 

 
Option d. doesn't resolve the ambiguity, even if we go so far as to punctuate this as separate sentences:

The fruit was very soft.  And sweet.

Your line of reasoning is correct.  Either "and [it was] sweet" or "and [it was very] sweet" are possible ways to interpret the fragment. 

 

There is another option worth considering.

The fruit was very soft and also sweet.

In this example, "very" is in a position to modify "soft", "also" is in a position to modify "sweet", and the two parallel constituents of the coordination are the two separate phrases "very soft" and "also sweet".  Giving the word "sweet" some parallel modifier of its own is enough to keep "very" from modifying the entire coordination.  In this example, "very" can only attach to "soft". 

Of course, "also" isn't the only available modifier for this purpose:

The fruit was very soft and slightly sweet.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.