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Sally didn't eat more than two apples.

I am wondering how does this sentence can get two different meanings.

  • What is your interpretation of the sentence? Why do you believe there are two meanings? If you explain your thinking we might be able to give better answers. – ColleenV Jan 26 '15 at 23:27
  • Because of two different structure ambiguity... One meaning is the case when 'didn't' is only attached to the verb 'eat'('more than two apples' wold not be in the syntactic domain of 'didn't'), and the other meaning is the case when 'more than two' is in the syntactic domain of 'didn't'. – user15897 Jan 26 '15 at 23:28
  • Would I be correct in assuming that this is a homework question? Perhaps start off by listing the meaning that you can see, and we can work on the second one from there. – Damien H Jan 26 '15 at 23:31
  • Yes this is one of my homework question but I am not a native speaker and I decide to ask to native speakers. – user15897 Jan 26 '15 at 23:32
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    The meaning can change with stress, e.g. if "apples" is stressed, it implies Sally might have eaten more than two of something else. If you stress "Sally", it implies someone else ate all those apples... and so on. – DrMoishe Pippik Jan 26 '15 at 23:47
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Regardless how you slice it (or them...), the sentence:

Sally didn't eat more than two apples.

by itself can only mean one of these:

Sally ate two apples.
Sally ate one apple.
Sally ate no apples.

Referring to whole apples, anyway.

| improve this answer | |
  • But if she did slice them, she might have eaten 1-1/2, or 1-3/4. Also, stress matters, as DrMoishe Pippik pointed out. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 27 '15 at 2:26
  • @BrianHitchcock I would like to see some example sentences where emphasis would mean something else, but you cannot imply anything not in the statement itself. – user3169 Jan 27 '15 at 2:44
  • DrMoishe Pippik gave examples. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 27 '15 at 3:37
  • "emphasis" refers to spoken English. I was not referring to written English. There, you have to take it literally, in one of the three ways user3169 listed. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 27 '15 at 3:40

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