9

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

16

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.

6
  • 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 at 13:34
  • 2
    @TobyMak your second clarification is also ambiguous. I would suggest "he saw the man by using the telescope" :) – Muzer May 10 at 9:35
  • 1
    @TobyMak - even if English is your first language this sentence is (intentionally) confusing! – David258 May 10 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 at 11:56
  • 1
    @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 at 15:24
5

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

Time flies like an arrow.

Readings:

  • 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).

2
  • 7
    In this case I would have thought "Fruit flies like a banana" was the phrase with two readings – Henry May 9 at 0:48
  • 3
    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 at 20:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.