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...the girl (by the table (with the carved legs).

How to know whether the prepositional (with the carved legs) phrase is describing the girl or table? Are there any trick in grammar?

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It describes the table.

This is because you don't carve the legs of girls.

This kind of reasoning is called "pragmatics". You understand which noun phrase is modified partly by syntax (the modifier is placed close to the modified noun phrase) and partly because the alternate interpretations don't make sense in real life. You always interpret in context. This is one thing that makes it so hard for computers to understand natural language - they have to learn that tables have legs that can be carved but girls' legs cannot.

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  • At school in the 1960s our English book had exercises where you had to correct things like 'FOR SALE - table for sale by lady with one wobbly leg'. Oct 2, 2022 at 17:59

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