a. He used to smoke with me.

Can't (a) have two meanings?

  1. He used to smoke together with me. He and I smoked together.

  2. He used to smoke when with me. (I didn't smoke)

  • 11
    It's absolutely normal in English that sentences are ambiguous.
    – Fattie
    Oct 6, 2023 at 22:45
  • 2
    Depends on if he was your baby sitter, your weed buddy in high school and/or if you were just a poser.
    – Mazura
    Oct 7, 2023 at 13:33
  • 1
    I think there are many more than two possible meanings.  For example, this doesn't have to be about smoking cigarettes/cigars (even though that's a natural assumption if there's no other context)…
    – gidds
    Oct 8, 2023 at 12:30

3 Answers 3


Yes, that sentence can have both meanings. The natural meaning is 1., but with the right context, meaning 2 would be easily understood:

A: Really. He never smoked when he was around me.
B: That's strange because he used to smoke with me, and I don't think he was trying to hide it from anyone.

  • 7
    I'd still understand B's reply in your answer to imply B was smoking too. The use of "around" in A's is the what indicates A's non-involvement (or at least is neutral on A's involvement).
    – Ty Hayes
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:57

The first meaning would be understood. A strict grammatical analysis doesn't prove that (2) is impossible, but it would not be normal for two people to meet habitually for the purpose of smoking (or drinking, or eating etc) and then for one person not to smoke.

  • 1
    Even further, it'd be understood that, he used to [come] smoke with ME when I went to smoke (smokers tend to bandwagon). If we just happen to see each other when we both went to smoke, then we used to smoke (together). - If he was your guardian or babysitter, then it might be, he used to smoke with me (in the car/house). - Last but not least, they had the courtesy of waiting for you to finish even if they already did. If they don't do that, then it's just two people smoking at not quite the same time.
    – Mazura
    Oct 7, 2023 at 13:26

It depends on the context and it's necessary to add additional information to clear it up fully

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