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a. He dated two women in New York and Los Angeles.

b. He dated two women, in New York and Los Angeles.

c. He dated two women in New York and in Los Angeles.

d. He dated two women, in New York and in Los Angeles.

What do the above sentences mean?

Which of the following meanings could they have?

  1. He dated one woman in New York and one in Los Angeles.

  2. He dated the same two woman in the two cities.

  3. He dated four women in all. Two in NY and two in LA.

It seems to me that the commas make it clear that he dated two women in all.

Other than that nothing seems clear to me!

3

Ambiguity is common in every language and if it doesn't cause you difficulties in your native language, it shouldn't cause you any more difficulties in English. Use common sense and if it's not clear then ask.

It's not clear what it means, and so people will tend to avoid that sort of expression. It is easy to say

He dated one woman in New York and another in LA.

or

He dated two women in New York, and another two in LA!

and so on.

If someone says "He dated two women, in New York and LA", it probably means one in NYC and one in LA (but that is based upon my knowledge of the difficulty in dating four women in two different cities, or of dating the same two women in two different places at once. I'm understanding using common sense). If it really matters remember that there are always two people in any conversation. If you want something made clear you can ask.

You mean one in each city!?

2

All of the sentence a, b, and c are ambiguous. Any of them could be intended to mean any of 1, 2, or 3. Comma placement is not sufficient to make one of these possible meanings clearly intended.

As the answer by James K says, it would be easy to explicitly indicate which meaning is intended. None of a, b, or c does that. Each is a valid sentence, and additional context might clarify the meaning.

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