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Here is a part of the Pinocchio story that I found ambiguous,

He decided to make himself a wooden puppet - a wonderful puppet that would know how to dance and fight and leap like an acrobat.

I'd like to know which word(s) refer to acrobat. Longman defines acrobat as the following,

Someone who entertains people by doing difficult physical actions such as walking on their hands or balancing on a high rope, especially at a circus.

So I think only the last word (leap) refers to acrobat. Am I right?

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  • Connected by *and" I'd say that all of the verbs are acrobatical. Dancing with leaps can be acrobatic, and I've seen acrobats fling each other around while gripping each other at the forearm and it bore some resemblance to fighting. Dec 12, 2023 at 11:15
  • Syntactically, the text is ambiguous. Logicsally, it's unlikely like an acrobat would apply to fight and leap but not dance, but syntactically (if the specific words made more sense with that parsing) even that would be possible. But even discounting that possibility, at the level of syntax, it could refer to just the final verb leap, OR to all three (but the spoken versions of those two possibilities would be different). Dec 12, 2023 at 12:00

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He decided to make himself a wooden puppet - a wonderful puppet that would know how to dance and fight and leap like an acrobat.

From context, acrobat refers to leap, based on what an acrobat usually does. Syntactically, however, it could refer also to dance and fight.

A comma would help; we place it before the last and:

He decided to make himself a wooden puppet - a wonderful puppet that would know how to dance and fight[,] and leap like an acrobat.

Alternatively, we shift to the front the verb to be modified and its preposition phrase:

He decided to make himself a wooden puppet - a wonderful puppet that would know how to leap like an acrobat and dance and fight.

In a construction with a post-modifier modifying just one of the terms, we should place at the front that modifier and the term. We do the reverse for constructions with pre-modifiers.

Please see this too.

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    Good answer. Also, this sentence would lose its ambiguity when spoken aloud. Dec 12, 2023 at 8:58

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