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I made up a pretty interesting sentence which confuses me. The context is there are two people who met each other in some town and one of them told the other about a chiildren's play area where no dogs were allowed, then later the guy who was told about it says that he saw this children's play area. How to say it?

I saw the children's play area that you had told me about in that town where no dogs were allowed

I saw the children's play area where no dogs were allowed that you had told me about in that town

The problem is the sentence 1 may inform us that no dogs were allowed in the town where the area was told about, but not in the area itself. At the same time the sentence 2 may tell us that the person told about the dogs but not about the play area.

Also I can suppose that if we want to say that the guy told about the dogs we should say:

I saw the children's play area where no dogs that you had told me about in that town were allowed

So, how should I say it if he saw the childrens' play area where no dogs were allowed and also he mentions that he was told about it by his friend in that town?

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  • The rule is that a relative clause has to appear next to the clause to which it refers. In speech, though, people any number of things.
    – Lambie
    May 7 at 14:15
  • I saw the children's play area that you had told me about in that town where no dogs were allowed. = Is perfect. No problem at all.
    – Lambie
    Sep 4 at 17:07
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Formally, sentences like this are ambiguous, and there is no algorithmic method to determine the scope of the modifying phrases.

In practice, they are hardly ever ambiguous because a combination of real-world knowledge and pragmatics takes away the ambiguity. (This is not a property of English, but of human language).

If you want to convey a less-likely interpretation of a sentence like that, you will need to clarify your meaning in another way than just choosing the order of components.

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  • Okay, how would you say what I mean? Jul 4 '20 at 18:00
  • Probably "that you told me about when we were in that town".
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 4 '20 at 18:01
  • And where in my sentence would you place this piece of information? Jul 4 '20 at 18:01
  • Wherever your like. If you are that bothered about getting a precise meaning across, then split it into two (or more) sentences. I'm sorry if this is unhelpful, but your questions seem to amount to "tell me which is the correct order to get precisely this meaning", and my answer is that there is no answer. There is always potential ambiguity. There is occasionally actual ambiguity. If you want to make precise a pragmatically less likely meaning then you need to change the structure (as I did with "when we were").
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 4 '20 at 18:08
  • And how can I split it into two sentences? "I saw the children's play area where no dogs are allowed, the area you told me about in that town"? This way? Jul 4 '20 at 18:56
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If you need a single sentence, and you have to mention that town as part of it, you can only really do it like this:

I saw that children's play area where no dogs are allowed that you had told me about when we were in that town.


Note that it should be are allowed, not were allowed, because (I'm assuming) dogs are still not allowed there.

Also, the use of that town is strange, but it might make sense if the actual name of the town had been forgotten. (Otherwise, the name would normally be used instead.)

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  • But both your sentences mean that the playground was in a town. There's no information that it was exactly there. Maybe it was in some village or somewher else... Jul 4 '20 at 19:38
  • @MichaelAzarenko I misread your question and have had to provide a different answer as a result. Jul 4 '20 at 19:46
  • Then the question is "Does I saw that children's play area where no dogs are allowed that you had told me about when we were in that town mean he told me about the play area[where no dogs are allowed] or about the dogs[that are not allowed in that play area]? Jul 4 '20 at 20:47
  • @MichaelAzarenko It's talking about the play area, not the dogs themselves. Jul 4 '20 at 21:02
  • Okay, how should I change the sentence if I still saw the play area where no dogs are allowed but this time I want to say that he told me about the dogs themselves, not about the playground? Jul 4 '20 at 21:10

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