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Sentence in question:

"The committee requested that there be input from all the staff before taking a vote".

Isn't "taking a vote" ambiguous because "taking" could also refer to the committee instead of referring to the staff?

I think the sentence should be corrected as the following

"The committee requested that there be input from all the staff who would take a vote".

Is my correction correct?

  • I don't think the committee is supposed to take a vote, I think more specifically the staff are taking a vote. – user8959 Aug 23 '14 at 1:15
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The committee requested that there be input from all the staff before taking a vote.

The "committee" here is a decision making body for some orginization that also has a staff doing the regular work.
Before making a decision (voting) on some issue, the committe wants to know what the staff, that handles the daily business, thinks regarding that issue.
But ultimately the committee votes.

Also, if you leave out the prepositional phrase from all the staff, you get:

The committee requested that there be input before taking a vote.

Then it is clear that the committee is voting.

  • are the staff a part of the committee? if the staff are part of the committee then in reality the staff combined are taking a vote. – user8959 Aug 23 '14 at 1:40
  • @Ben No, think of the committee as managers, and the staff as the regular employees. – user3169 Aug 23 '14 at 2:15
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I answer this question as an AI person, because this is a real problem of natural langues (like English, French, Persian, ...).

First of all your answer is : Yes, the sentence is ambiguous, like many other sentences which we use in our every day conversations. It's indeed intrinsic to so called natural langues. And let me don't agree with the other answer, cause I think the right answer should be given according to the context from which the sentence is taken.

e.g.: "Ok, Let's play football before watching TV". Who wants to watch TV? Look at these sentences that me appear prior to it.

1.B) "I want to watch TV" -> B wants to watch TV and A asks him/her to play
2.A) "I want to watch TV, but" -> A wants to watch TV but accepts to play
3.C) "Let's watch TV" -> C invites them all to watch TV, and the accept but after playing.

I didn't try to create the sentences very carefully but I think they're enough to achieve my purpose.

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I'm a competent native speaker, and having found the source of this text (a SATS test), I'm not sure even I can be sure which answer is "best"...

The committee requested that there be input from all the staff before taking a vote.
A ...from all the staff before taking a vote.
B ...from all the staff taking a vote.
C ...before the staff took a vote on the input.
D ...from all the staff before having taken a vote.
E ...from all the staff who would take a vote.

(The implication being you could select A if you think the original is "better" than any alternatives.)

Personally, I would immediately dismiss D as ungrammatical, and C as far too stylistically ungainly. And I don't like B or E because they both simultaneously use staff to reference...

individuals - who can provide input
...and...
a collective group - who can take a vote

It's possible not all native speakers object to this "zeugma". But all would agree that individuals cast votes, and groups (the electorate) take votes - never the other way around.


TL;DR: Yes, the original is in principle ambiguous. But pragmatically that's not really a problem, since if the vote in question was a staff vote, one would expect more elegant phrasing to avoid the awkwardness of using staff in two different senses...

The committee requested that there be input from each staff member before taking a [staff] vote.

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