Questions tagged [ambiguity]

This tag is for questions about the multiple meanings of a word, or phrase.

180
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5answers
52k views

How does the “Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop…” joke work?

On YouTube, there's that famous joke the Dalai Lama didn't understand — and neither did I. It even made headlines in my part of the world, and on some of the sites I frequent, yet nobody ever ...
143
votes
9answers
40k views

How should I refer to a friend who is a girl but not a girlfriend?

When I'm talking about my friend, who is a girl, but not a girlfriend, what word or phrase should I use? If the gender was unimportant, it would not be a problem. But if I want to note that the friend ...
90
votes
11answers
6k views

Free as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer. — Richard Stallman Translating free to my language (...
46
votes
4answers
11k views

What is understood if I say “I'm an English teacher”?

What is understood if I say "I'm an English teacher"? "I teach English", or "I'm a teacher coming from England"?
38
votes
8answers
11k views

How to say something like “my company” without sounding like I own the company?

How do I say something like "my company," "my plane," "my bus", etc. without making it sound like I own the company/plane/bus/etc? "Our company" makes it seem like both me and the person/people I'm ...
28
votes
4answers
3k views

Does “red apples and bottles” mean “the apples are red and the bottles are red” or “only apples are red”?

What does "Red apples and bottles" mean? The apples are red and the bottles are red too. The apples are red but the color of the bottles is unknown. Which one is right ?
25
votes
5answers
12k views

How would a native speaker understand “Time flies like an arrow”?

“Time flies like an arrow” is often cited to illustrate problems with computer aided language processing. It is also an example of how ambiguous English can be. But is it really so ambiguous? How ...
22
votes
6answers
98k views

Is “until” inclusive or exclusive?

I sent an email to someone and got an auto-reply saying: I am out of the office until 09/15/2014. Does this mean he will be available on the morning of the 15th?
15
votes
4answers
2k views

Is the sentence “I'm not doing that because I hate you" ambiguous?

I'm not doing that because I hate you This sentence seems ambiguous to me. When I pause (place a comma) between "that" and "because", or add "just" between them, I get the two meanings. Someone ...
15
votes
5answers
6k views

using “next” to days of the week

This question reminded me of a debate I have with non-native English speakers. If today is Thursday and I say that something is to happen "next Saturday", does that mean the "Saturday in two days" ...
14
votes
6answers
22k views

What's the meaning of “there you go”?

I'm not a native English speaker and always get confused with this expression. For instance: Me: What's the current state of [some subject] discussion? Bob: There is none. It was brought up in ...
13
votes
2answers
3k views

I received a gift from my sister who just got back from

If I don’t use a comma before the word who in this sentence below, then would it imply that I have more than one sister (supposing the speaker had only one sister)? I received a gift from my sister ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

How do I say “gas”?

A friend of mine is working in a gas-mining industry. In a colloquial conversations with English speakers about his work, he uses the word "gas". In English, there are several distinct meanings for "...
12
votes
4answers
1k views

Meaning of “(assessing) points to nowhere”

A previous question post by a new user was put on hold because five people, incuding me, voted it to be "primarily opinion-based" because (or despite) it asking about one line in a song. Therefore I ...
12
votes
2answers
1k views

Does “hardly” have a unified meaning?

“Hardly”, “hardly ever”, and “hardly even” seem to mean different things and I can hardly distinguish between them. There's this page, listing 2 very similar meanings for hardly, and which seems to ...
11
votes
3answers
1k views

Will people get confused when they see 'Some of our customers speak Spanish, English, and German'?

Our cakes are very popular for foreign visitors. Some of them speak Spanish, Some speak English, and some speak German. Now, I want to make the second sentence neat and more easy to read, so I am ...
10
votes
4answers
1k views

The ambiguity of 'Noun + Photographer' while addressing the photographer

We use nouns + photographer to mean that the photographer masters the photography in that noun. Say - Wildlife photographer (the photographer masters wildlife photography) But then, when I try ...
10
votes
1answer
92 views

Why isn't there an article in “separated by empty space”?

Matter is composed of atoms separated by empty space through which the atoms move... Why isn't there an article before the words "empty space"?
9
votes
4answers
24k views

Difference between “as” and “because”?

What is the difference between as and because? Which one of these sentences is correct? He stayed home from work as he was sick? He stayed home form work because he was sick? Which is correct?...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

Is this BBC article ambiguous, or am I interpreting it incorrectly?

I came across a BBC article titled Ten laws that India should scrap. In the section about salt taxes, it first states: In 2013-14 collections from the tax amounted to $538,000 (£343,400), which was ...
8
votes
2answers
15k views

“Do you like me?” or “Are you like me?”

What is the proper use of "do" versus "are" in the phrases: Do you like me? Are you like me? Is there any difference between them?
8
votes
2answers
805 views

Using quotation marks in direct speech

My native language allows omitting quotation marks in sentences containing direct speech when the borderline between the "wrapper" sentence and the quoted speech is obvious and does not produce ...
7
votes
6answers
1k views

How to avoid ambiguity of the antecedent of a relative clause?

I wrote this technical text, which I found ambiguous: What's a child expression? It's a call expression inside a function, which represents a parent call expression. For the purposes of ...
7
votes
2answers
2k views

The ambiguous “he is buried”

In a sentence taken from the Oxford Dictionary: ‘The inscription on his tombstone in Groombridge Church, where he is buried alongside his three children, bears his original name and no reference to ...
7
votes
2answers
292 views

Indirect object, proximity, and ambiguity

As a lad I was taught that certain verbs such as "to say," "to describe," "to distribute," and "to explain" can take an indirect object only when it immediately follows a preposition, and that this ...
7
votes
3answers
1k views

How to resolve ambiguous meanings. Especially, “stand” and “stand up”. And, are there alternatives?

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 ...
6
votes
3answers
2k views

how to solve the ambiguity of “in” in this sentence

We did the task in ten minutes. I am pretty sure that it means 1) It took us ten minutes to do the task. (We spent 10 minutes doing the task) However, I see no obstacle to suppose that it may also ...
6
votes
1answer
332 views

How to use “since” to imply “from the time that”, not “because of”? Can tense itself have a role?

Consider: Since he left the group, we have worked harder to cover his absence. Since he left the group, we work harder to cover his absence. Since he left the group, we worked harder to ...
5
votes
6answers
2k views

How to translate the word “college” from Italian to English

I am Italian and I've lived for a while in the US and I heard a lot of people using the word college as a synonym of university; however in Italy the word college often refers to the place where you ...
5
votes
2answers
98 views

In “Steve left Kristina to deal with the creditors,” can Steve be the doer of 'left' and 'deal'?

Steve left Kristina to deal with the creditors. Under a grammatical perspective, could Steve be the doer of both verbs left and deal? If so, can anybody explain what the implications on the sentence'...
5
votes
1answer
53 views

About Uncle Ben's famous quote “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”

With great power comes great responsibility I can see that it is inverted to emphasize great power and responsibility. However, when I reverse it to a normal order(?), it is not only mundane but the ...
5
votes
2answers
684 views

What is the role of “the” in “She does homework in the evening”?

This is from an English textbook for children (private pdf file, so I cannot share the link). A: What does Carley do in the evening? B: She does homework in the evening. What is the role of "...
5
votes
2answers
1k views

Are “after” and “until” inclusive or exclusive?

The article is as follows The new area code is scheduled to be put into service next September. From that time until the following July, there will be a "permissive dialing period" when callers can ...
4
votes
3answers
608 views

What is the meaning of “just” in “I've just eaten a burrito”?

I've just eaten a burrito. Would this be correctly interpreted as "I've recently eaten a burrito" "I've only eaten a burrito" Or are both valid readings of the sentence? Why? In case it isn't ...
4
votes
2answers
142 views

He is the first man to arrive here

He is the first man to arrive here. I'm confused what this sentence means. I think it could mean either of the options below according to context, like He is the first man who is going to arrive ...
4
votes
1answer
59 views

Fix ambiguity in “You're Not Obligated to Work Until You're 30”

The sentence in the title has two, almost contradicting interpretations. (1) that you are not obligated to do the task "work until you're 30", or (2) you are not obligated to do the task "work" until ...
4
votes
3answers
188 views

3 ambiguous pronouns by Justice Antonin Scalia

Source: *Agency For International Development Et Al. v. Alliance For Open Society International, Inc., Et Al, Justice Scalia's dissent [Start from last para on p 19 of 25 of this PDF.] The First ...
4
votes
2answers
138 views

“Until now” ambiguity

The sentence "I haven't received xxx until now!" is a common construction I see in forums but although I understand those posters wanted to express their anxieties (based on the context in the posts) ...
4
votes
2answers
479 views

Do you count the current one?

For example, if I had 3 girlfriends before, and now I have 4th one that I am dating and somebody would ask: How many girlfriends did you have / have you gotten? Would it be correct to count in the ...
4
votes
1answer
9k views

What does 'form' mean in grammar?

linguisticsgirl.com: ... In my mind, grammatical *form**(what a word looks like) is clearly separate from grammatical function (what a word does). From ODO: 2.1. Any of the ways in which a word ...
4
votes
1answer
505 views

Certain kinds of fish or certain kinds of fishes? [duplicate]

Below is an excerpt taken from the passage given at Passage Comprehension page. Many scientists are working on safer and better ways to kill mosquitoes, but so far, there is no sure way to ...
4
votes
3answers
1k views

Have you not seen this movie? No

Have you not seen this movie? I'm confused as to what to say, my first reply was: No, I haven't seen it. Is this answer correct for this question or do I reply by answering the following: a. No, I ...
3
votes
3answers
701 views

In this sentence, who are sitting on the bench?

Consider: She spoke with him sitting on a bench. I think it is likely to mean she is sitting on the bench or he is sitting on the bench. So, I wonder if there is a way to eliminate this ...
3
votes
5answers
138 views

The department shredded all the files from the inquiry[,] 'which'/'that' contained embarrassing material

The department shredded all the files from the inquiry which contained embarrassing material. After having read the sentence above, I was wondering if the department destroy every file, or only those ...
3
votes
2answers
467 views

“What is the age of marriage in your culture?”

Some time ago, I had an IELTS exam and my examiner asked me: What is the age of marriage in your culture? I thought he simply is mentioning the culture that I grow up with so I said: It varies ...
3
votes
1answer
204 views

“maintains his army had to buy the mortars”

Source: Putin's 'Gunman' Demanding More Russian Support in Ukraine Further, the ministry insists that Strelkov's troops got all the weapons they needed from Russia, but Strelkov maintains his army ...
3
votes
2answers
112 views

How to decide which meaning of “careening” is intended?

In Free as in Freedom (2.0) it reads (PDF, page 98): In many ways, the Symbolics war offered the rite of passage toward which Stallman had been careening ever since joining the AI Lab staff a ...
3
votes
3answers
349 views

Is it necessary for “which” to indicate the word before it?

1) Puche restored IGF-I circulating levels, which normally decline in serum with age, in aging rats. 2) Puche restored IGF-I circulating levels in aging rats, which normally decline in serum ...
3
votes
2answers
294 views

There was a farmer had a dog, but which one was named Bingo?

There was a farmer had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o. From these words alone (so, without appealing to different versions, translations, likelihoods of names, etc.), is there some way to decide ...
3
votes
2answers
4k views

“The best outcome for Spain…” Is there any ambiguity as to the meaning of this phrase?

Consider this sentence: "The best outcome for Spain would be to permit the referendum, and for Catalan voters to reject independence" (Source, In the last paragraph) Would this mean that the best ...