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?

Many thanks

  • 3
    The first has no ambiguity – the police will open the door. If you will be the one opening the door I suggest "I waited for the police to arrive before opening the door". Sep 18 at 22:35
  • 1
    I waited to open the door until the police arrived. [sigh] if that is what you mean.
    – Lambie
    Sep 18 at 23:12
  • 1
    The other answers and comments are right. Here's what I think: a. will be interpreted by most as the police opening, b. will be interpreted by most as the speaker opening. There are some context clues here too, about what we expect given what we know about police.
    – BigMistake
    Sep 19 at 4:11

2 Answers 2


The short answer is no, as the various replies indicate.

There are two reasons why the ambiguity exists;

  1. There is more than one choice of subject (I; the police).
  2. There is a verb in a form which by itself doesn't point to a particular subject (as opposed to a language where the verb might have different endings to distinguish singular and plural).

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.

  • You can change the word order. @Lambie offers I waited to open the door until the police arrived.
  • You can repeat the subject (as a noun or pronoun). I waited until the police arrived and I opened the door.

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.

  • 1
    Good effort, but in fact your proposed edit is still ambiguous. The verb and opened could be linked to waited, and then I'd be the one opening the door. Or it could be linked to arrived, then it's the police opening up. Sep 18 at 22:29

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