a. I waited for the police to open the door.
b. I waited until the police arrived to open the door.
Can we tell who is going to open the door, the speaker or the police?
English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
The short answer is no, as the various replies indicate.
There are two reasons why the ambiguity exists;
My instinct in both cases was to read the sentence as the police opening the door. This is because that referent is the nearest to the verb. You have to cast your eye further back to the beginning of the sentence to interpret me as the door opener. But certainly both readings are possible.
If your goal is to make it completely clear who opened the door, you have two basic choices.
However, the other side of these choices is that as well as clarifying the meaning they risk changing the meaning. As Lambie notes humorously, I was waiting for the police to arrive; now I'm waiting to open the door.
So there may not be easy answers. It's often a balance between clarity, accuracy and simplicity of the language.
No, both sentences are ambiguous. If it’s the speaker doing the opening, then that can be made clear in both sentences by replacing to open with before opening. If it’s the police, then example a can be reworked as I waited until the police opened the door, and example b as something like Rather than opening the door, I waited for the police, who opened it on arriving.