After reading about syntactic structure and phrase structure grammar in Wikipedia and on the internet, I was wondering if there are any sentences with more than one possible phrase structure grammar? And is there a special name for such sentences?

If I'm not wrong, this is one example of phrase structure grammar: (Picture source : Wikipedia) source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrase_structure_grammar

2 Answers 2


Yes, this is possible, and the phenomenon is called syntactic ambiguity. A classical example sentence is

He saw the man with the telescope.

which has two different readings and syntactic analyses.

  • 8
    For the benefit of future readers, this could either mean: "he saw the man who had the telescope with him" (possessive) or "he saw the man using the telescope" (instrumental). If English is not your first language, the sentence could be confusing.
    – Toby Mak
    May 9, 2021 at 13:34
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    @TobyMak your second clarification is also ambiguous. I would suggest "he saw the man by using the telescope" :)
    – Muzer
    May 10, 2021 at 9:35
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    @TobyMak - even if English is your first language this sentence is (intentionally) confusing!
    – David258
    May 10, 2021 at 11:54
  • That's the point: if you're a native English speaker, there is a good chance you can figure out yourself if you mull over it.
    – Toby Mak
    May 10, 2021 at 11:56
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    @TobyMak Even if you're a native speaker, you might need context, although there will be a common default interpretation (I think it would be "by using", because telesopes are typically used for seeing things).
    – Barmar
    May 10, 2021 at 15:24

At the risk of redundancy, I'll offer the canonical example:

Time flies like an arrow.


  • Time passes rapidly in human experience.
  • Those 'time flies' sure do like arrows.
  • (Hey you:) Go (as fast as an arrow) and time some flies.

(Fruit flies like a banana).

  • 7
    In this case I would have thought "Fruit flies like a banana" was the phrase with two readings
    – Henry
    May 9, 2021 at 0:48
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    Plus, Time those flies the way an arrow would (eg Kick doors like a toddler) and Time the flies that are like arrows, not the others (eg Drive cars like a BMW - actually a bit of a stretch, "...like BMWs" is generally better).
    – SusanW
    May 9, 2021 at 20:07

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