I read a title on Twitter:

Russian monument to Steve Jobs taken down after Apple CEO Cook says he is gay

People are arguing the sentence is more likely to be understood as meaning that Cook said Jobs is gay.

The title was a post on The Washington Post.

My questions is, is it really poorly constructed? If so, how should it be adjusted?


This is a great question, and there's a lot of ambiguity in every-day speech between those.

Honestly, in my experience, we generally just accept the ambiguity and depend on some context to understand what was meant.

I started that sentence expecting to provide a sufficient way of jumping around the confusion, but I don't have one. You could say "...Apple CEO Cook says Cook is gay," but that would probably just make a lot of people think you were introducing another person.

On top of that, there's really no way to determine which person was meant in this case. If "he" meant Steve Jobs--and of course, knowing the story, it doesn't--it would be reasonable to say:

Russian monument to Steve Jobs taken down after Apple CEO Cook says Jobs is gay.

But, again, that carries a different meaning than was actually intended here. No immediate, similar solution jumps to mind for the actual meaning. It's one of those unfortunate cases where it's easy enough to prove that it is the other one, but not that it's not the other one. Always frustrating.

The best solution I can think of involves some restructuring.

Russian monument to Steve Jobs taken down after Apple CEO Cook comes out as gay.

There are a number of variations that could also resolve work in this case, but you see the point.

Long story short, it's just dependent on context. Personally, I don't think that was a well-worded headline because of the ambiguity, even though it would have been resolved by simply reading the article.


This headline could be ambiguous, if the monument was of somebody else. He in that sentence does not grammatically have to refer to either Cook or Jobs. It could be completely ambiguous. However, the reason the Washington Post could use this headline is because they said:

  • Cook says he's gay.

Most people know that Steve Jobs died a while ago, so because they use the present tense 'is gay', people are unlikely to think that that means Steve Jobs is gay. We would usually say that someone who is now dead 'was gay'. If Steve Jobs was alive, it would be ambiguous and we would not know who he referred to.

Hope this helps.

  • I +1 this because of the reference to the tense. Had it been about Jobs, I think the sentence would have gone "after Apple CEO Cook says he was gay". – András Hummer Nov 5 '14 at 11:12

It is a little ambiguous (at least, to those who hadn't already heard which of them had come out). A clearer way to write it might be "Russian monument to Steve Jobs taken down after Apple CEO Tim Cook comes out as being gay".

That specifies which of the two people is gay.


You could adjust it a bit to make more clear.

Apple CEO Cook says he is gay, then Russian monument to Steve Jobs taken down


The meaning behind the sentence is

[The] Russian monument to Steve Jobs [has been] taken down after Apple CEO Cook says he [Mr. Cook] is gay.

The phrasal verb, to come out (suggested by several users) requires that the verb that follows takes the -ing form; therefore,

" ... after Apple CEO Cook comes out as being gay."

If the original phrase had been restructured this way, there would have been no ambiguity. However, as Araucaria rightly pointed out, Steve Jobs is dead and if the Apple CEO had wanted to say that the co-founder of Apple was homosexual he would have said, "he was gay".

Is it poorly constructed?

One of the problems with phrasal verbs is that many non-native speakers are unfamiliar with their meanings, and the same expression can have several different meanings. In this context come out means to acknowledge or tell the truth about something.

Some writing style guides frown on using several words where one will do, George Orwell once said

  1. Never use a long word where a short one will do

  2. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

This probably justifies why the journalist preferred "says" in the original sentence, it's shorter, and everybody understands it. But the possible ambiguity of the headline (if Steve Job's demise hadn't been well publicized) probably indicates the reporter is inexperienced or that he simply made an error of style.

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