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If I have a negative sentence + until and then another sentence, I can discern two (2) meanings (it's ambiguous). How can someone differentiate between the two (2)?

Example:

"Ten things that you can't use until they crack"

One interpretation would be the things that you shouldn't keep using up to the point that they crack. Another interpretation would be the things that you shouldn't use until after they crack.

Source: From a meme about the Titan submersible, comparing it to a silicone smartphone case that people use even though it yellowed with time, with the meaning being that some things, Titan in this case, should be maintained before they manifest problems

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    Where you got the sentence from?
    – Sam
    Jun 27, 2023 at 15:57
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    I can't think of anything that I can't use 'until it cracks', in your first sense. Mostly, we resolve such ambiguities (if they truly exist) by considering context. Made up phrases like that are not useful. Jun 27, 2023 at 16:02
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    It sounds like a foolish, and somewhat ghoulish meme. Jun 27, 2023 at 16:03
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    I think that often native speakers avoid such ambiguities by using a different verb, e.g. shouldn't mustn't, etc, the nature of the event after 'until', and ordinary 'common sense' - you shouldn't eat mangoes until they are ripe, you shouldn't tease a dog until it bites you. 'Can't' suggests impossibility and would be used if we have to wait until something happens. You can't get of the plane until it lands. Jun 27, 2023 at 19:09
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    @ARGYROUMINAS The citation should go in the question, with as much detail as possible. Information in the question will stay with the question, while information in a comment will disappear when the comment gets deleted (which happens fairly often). Jun 28, 2023 at 3:41

1 Answer 1

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It is not a sentence. This seems like a headline for a document. In, "Ten things that you can't use until they crack," the italicized is a dependent clause. To make it a sentence, one might write, "These are ten things that you can't use until they crack."

As you state the phrase is a bit ambiguous: does it mean items that are not usable unless they are cracked (e.g., code, egg or seed), or items that become useless long before they become cracked (perhaps, a watch crystal?). However, the first interpretation seems much more applicable.

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  • So, we rephrase or use context to resolve this ambiguity? The meme used the latter interpretation. Jun 27, 2023 at 19:32
  • Yes, to avoid ambiguity reorder so it's clear what is being negated: "Things that until they crack you can't use", if you're talking about eggs.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 28, 2023 at 11:15

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