1 - How to resolve ambiguity of "stand".

First, my main question is how to resolve and work with the ambiguity of the verb "stand". It's ambiguous in a sense that it can mean both "to be in a standing position" and "to get into a standing position". For instance, the following are ambiguous:

  • "Everyone stood when the President came in" (Was everyone already standing before the President came in or did everyone stand only after the President came in?)
  • "Some people stood for the opening of the guest speaker's speech." (Did the people stand up for the opening of the speech, or did they stand up and remain standing for the duration, or did they simply remain standing for the opening?)

Am I correct in my thinking above? And how, in general, does one know which meaning is intended, or how does one write such that the meaning is unambiguous?

2 Synonyms for Stand? And is there ambiguity issues there too?

Secondarily, I'm looking for some choices to describe "being in" or "getting into" a standing position, but I want to be careful about potential ambiguity. Towards this effort, I have researched and come across the following:

  • I read that "stand up" can have both of these meanings and it's also thus ambiguous.
  • Can the phrases "get up" and "get to one's feet" mean both "being in" and "getting into a standing position"?
  • As I understand it, "rise" is unambiguous, meaning "to get into a standing position" and not "to be in a standing position"
  • Any other synonyms / phrases I could use?

Am I correct in my research above? Are there other similar words or phrases that mean either "being in" or "getting into" a standing position that I can use without the inherent ambiguity?

I welcome any kind of clarification of how to deal with this kind of ambiguity: specifically in regards to stand and it's synonyms, or some more general rule that would cover this and other cases.

  • 9
    I don't think, "Everyone stood when the President came in" is ambiguous. It means that the President's entering prompted them to stand. If they had already been standing beforehand, the sentence would be, "Everyone was standing when the President came in."
    – Jim
    Feb 13, 2015 at 16:23
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    You have too many questions and words you want to compare to clearly answer. You should follow the general SE rule of 1 question per posting, so it can be answered clearly. I would start with getting a reasonable understanding of the meaning of each one, before attempting comparisons.
    – user3169
    Feb 13, 2015 at 18:46
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    I edited this question so it can be reopened. My edit rephrases the question in a way it can be answered, and any answer to the question-as-rephrased will answer the OP's questions/issues. I do believe the OP has some misconceptions that made the question intractable, confusing and complex. While still a bit complex, the rephrasing simplifies the question to within the realm of other successful questions. I also added some text and phrasing to help give The Answerer a more direct opportunity to address the misconceptions, which is fundamentally part of the OP's problem. Feb 13, 2015 at 20:03
  • @CoolHandLouis I think you have rewritten it so well that it answers itself (except for the request for synonyms). The meaning of words can be ambiguous in certain constructions, so to try to eliminate the ambiguity, use either a different verb or a different construction. What else is there to say? And also sit and sit down have the same potential ambiguity as stand snd stand up.
    – user6951
    Feb 14, 2015 at 3:10
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    @δοῦλος Slight distinction: I think I rewrote it so the answer is more obvious. :) Personally, I think OP's issue is thinking that since stand is ambiguous in the general sense (what does this mean? ---> "stand") that it's necessarily ambiguous in common usage. And the answer is that language has a lot of ambiguity that's resolved by context. Based on the definition alone, the OP didn't recognize that in the first example the usage did resolved the ambiguity, as Jim pointed out. In other cases, context must be supplied by surrounding text or real world context proximal to the utterance. Feb 16, 2015 at 1:55

3 Answers 3


Generally, when "stand" is used to mean "is in a standing position", it is accompanied by a location:

He stood in the corner, sipping a whiskey.

They stood around the table, arguing.

She stood by the window, looking forlornly down the empty driveway.

Often this meaning will be expressed in the past continuous, using "was standing" instead of "stood" to unambiguously refer to the condition of standing, as opposed to the act of standing:

He was standing in the corner, sipping a whiskey.

When "stand" is used to mean "get to one's feet", it is either unaccompanied, or accompanied by an event:

He stood when she entered the room.

They stood as the speaker finished his speech.

"Now that you're here, I can finally leave," she said as she stood.

In my experience, stand up is rarely used for "be in a standing position" when it refers to a person; you are much more likely to hear it used for an inanimate object (especially one which is normally horizontal), and again it will most likely be accompanied by a location:

The bedframe stood up against the wall.

Most often, stand up is used for the action of getting to one's feet:

He stood up and stretched

As I approached, he stood up and reached to shake my hand.

Everyone stood up when the orchestra finished its song.

In your first two examples, people changed from sitting to standing when the president came in, and people changed from sitting to standing for the opening of the speech (they did not remain standing for the entire speech, but sat down again after only a moment or two).

Your given alternatives, "get to one's feet" and "rise", both unambiguously refer to the action of changing from a non-standing position into a standing position.

  • COCA suggests the static "standing" meaning is, as you say, usually accompanied by a location (or relative location such as, "they stood together as the wind blew"). However, it can be used without a reference to location, as in: She needed to get home to nurse her newborn baby. It had been 12 hours since her last breast-feeding. She stood for a moment, caught between the desperate needs of her family: an ailing parent terrified of her new surroundings and an infant who needed her to survive. She wrenched herself away from her mother. (Oliviero, 2012-03-25, Atlanta Journal Constitution) Feb 18, 2015 at 1:40
  • @CoolHandLouis, well, you know, this is English, after all. There's no rule that applies 100% of the time. :-)
    – Hellion
    Feb 18, 2015 at 3:27
  • Even the rule you just stated about rules? ;) I do agree, of course; just putting that perspective out there. ;) Feb 18, 2015 at 21:57
  • I think the 2nd example is ambiguous; it could mean they were "just standing (static)". Compare with Some people stood during the opening of the guest speaker's speech. The preposition during (almost 100%) forces "just standing (static)". It would be a difficult and strange scenario (but not impossible) to interpret that as "standing up". It would have to be slow motion standing up! On the other hand, the meaning with the preposition for doesn't force either meaning; it really depends on how one visualizes the scenario. Extra context could easily sway it either way. Feb 18, 2015 at 22:30

You're right, "to stand" can be ambiguous or unclear, and is often used in a way that (even intentionally) doesn't say who stood up having been down, and who stayed standing having already been standing. However it is often clear enough by context.

"To stand up" is more likely to mean the subject was down before, but it doesn't have to mean that, so yes, it's technically ambiguous but the context can make it more clear.

To "get up" or "get to one's feet" implies without doubt that the subject was not standing up before they did that.

To "rise" also is unambiguous, although in the imperative, it means to get up if you're not up already.

You can use tense, context, and adverbs with "to stand", such as "He stood there", or "he was standing" for already standing, or "they stood up from their seats" for getting up.

You could also say someone "leapt up" or "leapt to her feet" (if she did it quickly) or if they're moving while standing, you can say they walked or strode or skipped or whatever.


Here for the first question of yours it is used the conditional clause 'when' so this itself clearly tells that both actions happened simultaneously i.e people stood seeing the president stepping in.

I think this is more precise and I don't want to confuse you with using more complicated examples.

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