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We had an accident in our street last night.

Does that imply that we were actually involved in the accident, or could it mean that there was an accident in our street last night and we were somehow affected by it (maybe we were awakened by the noise, or distracted by it, or saddened by the whole thing, or maybe even we were happy because finally something out of the ordinary had happened in our lives!)?

3 Answers 3

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This sentence is quite vague, you cannot tell whether you were involved in it, or it just happened to occur on your street. If you were involved, you might say:

We were in an accident (on our street) last night.

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It could mean either, without context the sentence is ambiguous.

1

I agree with David and DialFrost about the ambiguity in your sentence. But when considering it, I found it useful to notice how small changes to your original affected that ambiguity. Consider:

  1. We had an accident…
  2. I had an accident…
  3. There was an accident…

as well as (for completeness):

  1. We were in an accident… (i.e. DialFrost's suggestion)
  2. I was in an accident…

It is interesting to see that only #1 has the ambiguity over who the accident happened to. The rest are fairly clear. So:

In #2, #4, and #5, I reckon pretty much all native speakers would interpret them to mean that the accident happened to the speaker (or the speaker's group).

In #3, I suspect native speakers would interpret it almost as unanimously but in the opposite direction; i.e. to mean that the accident happened to someone other than the speaker. But it is, perhaps, a tiny bit less clear than #2, #4, and #5.

And even though #1 is very much less clear, still I reckon more people (including myself) would interpret it the same as #4 rather than #3.

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