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I am interested in the following sentence:

Only Bill can fix his car and only Jack cannot

where the universe includes Bill, Bill's car, Jack, Jack's car and optionally Jeff and Jeff's car.

Also, his car in the first conjunct is assumed to refer to Bill's car.

There are (at least) four interpretations one can distinguish:

1. (Strict-strict)

a. Bill can fix Bill's car

b. All the other ones cannot fix Bill's car

c. Jack cannot fix Bill's car

d. All the other ones can fix Bill's car

(By b. and d. the universe cannot include Jeff in this case)

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2.(Sloppy-sloppy)

a. Bill can fix Bill's car

b. All the other ones cannot fix their own car

c. Jack cannot fix Jack's car

d. All the other ones can fix their own car

(Again, by b. and d. the universe cannot include Jeff in this case)

enter image description here

3.(Strict-sloppy)

a. Bill can fix Bill's car

b. All the other ones cannot fix Bill’s car

c. Jack cannot fix Jack’s car

d. All the other ones can fix their own car

enter image description here

4.(Sloppy-strict)

a. Bill can fix Bill's car

b. All the other ones cannot fix their own car

c. Jack cannot fix Bill’s car

d. All the other ones can fix Bill’s car

enter image description here

Q: I would like to ask about English native intuitions regarding the potential interpretations of the above sentence.

Which one (if any) of the above readings is the most salient for you?

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  • It’s not a question of being the most salient reading to me, but that 1 is the only one that’s possible at all. None of the others are even vaguely possible. The only other potential reading is that ‘his’ refers to someone else (e.g., Jeff), but that leads immediately to a catch-22 dilemma: Bill is the only one who can fix Jeff’s car, and Jack is the only one who cannot fix Jeff’s car, so the universe contains no one but Bill and Jack… but the car is Jeff’s, who is neither Bill nor Jack. Since this reading is self-contradictorily impossible, it can be discarded. Commented Mar 16 at 2:42
  • Wow, the example makes my head throb, and my intuitions about which readings are dominant or possible are not clear. Could it be, though, that VP-ellipsis forces parallelism of the readings, so either strict-strict or sloppy-sloppy, but not strict-sloppy or sloppy-strict? But both of the parallel readings are contradictory. Thus, if forced to produce an answer, I might claim that none of the readings is dominant, but rather the sentence cannot be interpreted in a way that makes sense. Commented Mar 19 at 9:02
  • Note that if one removes VP-ellipsis from the example, the sentence can make sense: Only Bill can fix his car, and only Jack cannot fix his car. The sentence can now mean that the others cannot fix Bill's car but they all (including Bill) can fix Jack's car. Commented Mar 19 at 9:09

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