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Take this simple sentence for example:

I like dogs and cats.

Which means I like dogs and I like cats. Simple.

What if I add an adjective "big" before the word "dogs"?:

I like big dogs and cats.

The first part is obvious, which means I like big dogs. What about the cat part though? Does it mean I like cats (size doesn't matter), or I like big cats? I have a feeling it's the former so if I want to say I like big cats, I would need to add the word "big" before "cats" but that sounds redundant to me.

Here is another example:

I want loud music and snacks.

This one is more obvious than the previous example since you can't apply "loud" to "snacks" since there is no such thing.

How do I know whether I need to apply adjective/adverb to consecutive nouns/verbs in a conjunction sentence respectively?

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  • I think "I like big dogs and cats" is ambiguous without context; it could take on either of the interpretations that you described. – angryavian Jan 5 at 1:28
  • You've taken the first step, recognizing the ambiguity. The next step is to say "big dogs and big cats" or "cats and big dogs", depending on what you want to say. If someone else says it, ask for clarification. – Jack O'Flaherty Jan 5 at 2:46
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    In spoken language, you can add pauses to make it clearer too. If dogs and cats sounds connected, like a single idea, then it might imply that big applies to both of them. But if you can separate big dogs, and cats the listener is more likely to hear big dogs and cats as two separate things. (And you can imply that pause in text with a comma, like I just did!) – cactustictacs Jan 5 at 12:19
  • @JackO'Flaherty Do you know any example sentences where it's obvious when the adjectives apply to all nouns? – Max Jan 6 at 3:02
  • Well, you could say "I like big pets, including dogs and cats." – Jack O'Flaherty Jan 6 at 4:54

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