Context: I tried to hang a picture on the wall, but it’s too high to hang it, so I climbed on the chair and hung it on the wall.
Why can’t I say “I hung a picture on the wall on the chair” in this situation?
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Mainly because the wall isn't on the chair.
People naturally refer back to the previous object for reference. If you said it this way there's no context that puts you on the chair.
If you were to change that to “I hung a picture on the wall standing on the chair”, then even though there is still ambiguity - why is there a wall standing on a chair? - the listener would likely reach the correct interpretation.
You could go one step further and remove the ambiguity altogether by adding one last cue/pointer…
“I hung a picture on the wall, by standing on the chair”
We've now removed sufficient ambiguity from the situation that no-one would be confused - even if you didn't actually hang the picture literally by standing on a chair, you hung it by hammering a nail in the wall and suspending the picture cord from it; that's more detail than necessary to impart the information to your listener.
You could go for even more clarity and use
“I hung a picture on the wall, by standing on the chair so that I could reach”
but again, I feel we've already passed the point of sufficient clarification.
Many, many years ago [50 or 60] there was a series of newspaper 'want ads' that would intentionally distort this perspective or back-reference, for comedic effect. I always remembered this one as a perfect example…
"Bath wanted, for old lady, with tin bottom"
Even with the commas to separate clauses, it still pushes your mind to the wrong conclusion.
An alternative to gone fishin' again's answer:
I stood on the chair to hang a picture on the wall
Others have mentioned good solutions, but something I would like to add is that I actually think this is a perfectly valid sentence in English, it's just a little ambiguous and hard to understand the meaning by reading it once.
So the answer to "Why can't I say this", should be "You can say this, its just the listener might get confused". I think other people would understand if they had more context, such as if they physically saw what happened.
The sentence "I hung a picture on the wall on the chair" is too ambiguous. It has several possible interpretations, and it's unlikely that a person hearing the sentence will think of the correct interpretation.
When I read the sentence, the first interpretation I thought of was, "I hung the picture in such a way that it was hanging from the wall (and not the chair), but it was also hanging from the chair (and not the wall)." That obviously doesn't make sense.
The second interpretation I thought of was, "There was a picture on the wall, and I took the picture down from the wall and hung it on the chair." That would make sense, but it's kind of a strange interpretation.
The intended interpretation didn't even occur to me.
As others have said, the problem is that "on the X on the Y" normally means "the X that is on the Y", for example
I hung the picture on the hook on the wall.
For your intended meaning, the most natural thing to say IMO (which I don't think has been suggested yet) would be
I hung the picture on the wall using a chair.
Although I totally agree with the cause of your problem.
The wall is not on the Chair.
I don't entirely agree with the solution.
What we need to do is show the method which we used to hang the picture.
I would also suggest that we should add the context of why we needed to do this.
I hung a picture on the wall. I was able to reach the correct height by using a chair to stand on
by C.E.D preposition (METHOD); used to show how something is done:
In theory, you could say:
I, on the chair, hung a picture on the wall.
This doesn't sound fluent, but it only takes a few seconds to puzzle out the meaning. “On the chair” is clearly associated with “I”, and “the picture” is clearly being “hung on the wall”.
Adding “from” makes it clearer:
I, from on the chair, hung a picture on the wall.
This is clearer because it explains how “on the chair” relates to the rest of the sentence, using a subordinate clause. That also means you can put it (nearly) wherever you like in the sentence; just after “I” is not a good place, but these work:
From on the chair, I hung a picture on the wall.
I hung a picture on the wall from on the chair.
This last one is just what you wrote, with “from” added.
The given sentence is 100% normal, commonplace, and correct in English.
If you say it the "other" way it is still ambiguous.
Almost all sentences in English are highly ambiguous and can only be understood in context.
It is extremely misguided and shows a huge misunderstanding of English, to describe the sentence as "wrong".