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Is the following sentence ambiguous in terms of meaning because him can refer to either the teacher ( if we assume that the teacher is male) or someone who is known by the speaker, the teacher and you without any further context.

Did the teacher tell you to see him

What is your first impression/perception when you read the sentence.

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  • Depends on the context. First impression? teacher, of course.
    – Usernew
    Apr 15, 2016 at 13:19
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    Yes, it's ambiguous, and English is full of ambiguities like that. My first impression is that it means the teacher, but it's really impossible to say for sure, because (as you point out) him could refer to any male person who is not you or me. At least it's not "we" or "us", which are even worse...they can mean "you and me, and nobody else", "you and me, and some other people", or "me and some other people, but not you."
    – stangdon
    Apr 15, 2016 at 15:28

1 Answer 1

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The perceived meaning depends entirely on what was said before this sentence. It could be the teacher, but why would the teacher tell you to see the teacher? Maybe this might arise if the teacher wanted to meet with you outside the class, for example after school.

You went to the headmaster? Did the teacher tell you to see him?

Clearly, the speaker wants to know whether the teacher told you to see the Headmaster.

Why are you late back from school? Did the teacher tell you to see him?

No other person is mentioned, so you can safely assume that the speaker is asking whether the teacher told you to see the teacher (after school).

I spoke to the headmaster about you today. Did the teacher tell you to see him?

This is ambiguous- the speaker could be asking whether the teacher asked you to see the teacher (because the headmaster subsequently spoke to the teacher), or to see the headmaster.

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