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Jack walks up to the girl at the bar and starts flirting, but the girl just looks at him weirdly and walks away. Enjoying this, Ethan grins at Jack, pissing him off.

My question is about the last sentence. Is it clear that Ethan grins at Jack which pisses Jack off?

  • That's what it says. – Michael Harvey Jun 9 at 14:32
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    It's just a pragmatic assumption that it's Jack who's pissed off (syntactically, the referent of him is ambiguous). So in for example, Ethan gives all his money to Jack, leaving him without his bus fare home, we only know his and him refer to Ethan because the utterance wouldn't make much sense if either or both of those pronouns referred to Jack. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 9 at 14:39
  • It makes no sense to say that Ethan grinned, which pissed Ethan off. If he's old enough to be in a bar, he'd have learned not to do it. – Jack O'Flaherty Jun 9 at 18:11
  • It's Jack who was pissed off. – user17814 Jun 9 at 18:42
  • The two uses of ing that way ain't great style. – Lambie Jul 11 at 14:28
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In the last sentence, you have two participle forms of verbs (enjoying, pissing off) which must coordinate with another verb and subject in the sentence. Ethan grins is the only source for coordination, so we can assume Ethan is the subject doing the pissing him off phrase.

Since Ethan is the do-er of the action, if him referred to Ethan, we would also need to see pissing himself off in order for the statement to reflect back on Ethan. Since it only has him, and not himself, the reader can assume it's not Ethan, and must be the other male entity, Jack.

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