Can ‘one egg was given to three people’ mean ‘one egg each was given to three people’ as ‘three people were given one egg’ means ‘three people were given one egg each’? Or does it only mean the one egg was shared by three people?

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    Is this a "real" problem? Did you read this somewhere? Because normally this kind of situation doesn't happen with eggs.
    – James K
    Nov 25 at 6:41

I feel like having the egg be the object of the verb makes it harder to take it as "one egg each". If it were "Three people were given an egg", there would be a stronger case for the "one egg each" interpretation, but even then it would be rather weak, and based mostly on the context; the idea of three people sharing an egg (unless it was scrambled or something) doesn't make much sense. The use of "one" rather than "an" also makes the "each" interpretation harder. It's certainly possible for someone to say "One egg was given to three people" while intending the meaning "three people were given one egg each", but such a person would be acting rather carelessly with regard to ambiguity. It can be rather easy to have a clear meaning in your head, and because you know what you mean, you don't notice that there's another meaning that's more natural, so it's not out of the question that someone might say this, intending the "each" meaning, without noticing that it's poorly worded. If this is an important issue, a careful listener would ask for clarification.

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