I'm reading an introductory book on syntax and one of the exercises says to discuss the interpretations which the italicized expression can have in the given sentences and to give an appropriate paraphrase for each interpretation. Now I'm not sure about the following example:

John is easy to recognize.

I don't see how this sentence is ambiguous, it could be because English is not my native language. I would paraphrase this sentence as:

It is easy to recognize John.

Can you help me see another way to interpret this sentence?

1 Answer 1


Stress in English often marks Focus, often some kind of contrastive focus.

Your paraphrase is what would be meant by a neutral version of that sentence with no emphasised words.

John is easy to recognise = It is easy to recognise John

When John is emphasised we listeners are to understand that John has focus and that what is being said may be counter to our expectations. In this situation one interpretation is that while John may be easy to recognise, someone else isn't.

John is easy to recognise = It is easy to recognise John [but not Emily].

See this question at the English site for an exploration of how an eight word sentence can have eight separate meanings depending on what is emphasised.

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