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How do the three sentences below differ in meaning, and which can be answered with 'yes'?

  • Can you draw a rectangle with 3 straight lines?

  • Can you draw a rectangle by using 3 straight lines?

  • Can you draw a rectangle using 3 straight lines?

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  • All of them can be answered yes since none of them imply a limiting qualifier. You are using 3 straight lines and something else to get a rectangle. If "only" or "exactly" was in the question, then you'd have a different question though this is my interpretation of the question.
    – JB King
    Mar 18, 2013 at 23:24

2 Answers 2

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In common practice, all 3 would generally be considered to have same meaning - that is if you stopped someone on the street and asked them the question.

However, people often play little word games (ask each other trick questions). When you ask someone this question, some people would quickly recognize that this may be the case. If they believe that is what's happening, they would interpret the questions more literally. Here would be the difference in a "literal" interpretation of the questions:

1) Yes, you can draw a rectangle that has 3 straight lines (actually, it would have 4 straight lines in it).

2) No, in a normal cartesian coordinate system, it requires 4 straight lines to make a rectangle.

3) No, again, see 2) above.

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Apparently, a rectangle cannot be drawn using 3 straight lines. That can only form a triangle. But 3 straight lines are amongst what makes up a rectangle, so with 3 straight lines, a rectangle can come close to being created. So I'd go with 1)

I can draw an incomplete rectangle WITH 3 straight lines. No I can't draw a rectangle USING 3 straight lines.

I can build a house with bricks (does not mean only bricks are required. Bricks are just some components like the 3 lines forming a rectangle). What I can't do is build a complete house with brick (I'd need wood for windows and roofing sheets). It would incorrect for me to say, I can build a house using bricks (this means bricks is all I'd possibly need to build that house and can complete it with nothing else).

So with might not mean the component is complete, but indicates that is is a major portion of the components required. In multiples, I could build a house with bricks and woods as against, I can build a house using bricks and woods.

Oops! still sounds silly, but that's how I see it! :(

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