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Have Fun With Your Students: Ambiguous Sentences

June 25, 2012 by cananelicin · 45 Comments · Classroom Discussion, Just for fun

Write these sentences on the board, and ask your students (preferably advanced or intermediate level) to interpret them. Do not tell them that each sentence has more than one meaning. This activity will hem them analyze English sentence structure and lexicon better.

  • The lady hit the man with an umbrella.
  • He gave her cat food.
  • John went to the bank.
  • The man saw the boy with the binoculars.
  • They are hunting dogs.
  • I saw her duck.
  • I told her books were funny.
  • I sais see you on Sunday
  • I love hunting dogs.
  • Will Will will the will to Will?

If you do not understand the sentences, ask me :)

What else can you add to this list? Leave your example sentences below please.

 

 

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45 Comments so far ↓

  • Kathy

    The lady hit the man with the umbrella?????
    Please explain

  • cananelicin

    Dear Kathy,

    This is an ambiguous sentence because it has two meanings:
    1: The lady hit the man using an umbrella
    2: The lady hit the man who had an umbrella

    hope it will make sense
    thanks for stopping by :)

  • Angela

    I understand the ambiguity of all of the sentences except “John went to the bank.” ???Help.

  • mlungisi

    He gave her cat food..

    please help am writing tommorrow

    can it mean that: he gave her food with poison

  • osei Jafaro

    explain all the above sentence for me please..thnx

  • cananelicin

    1) She was given cat food 2) Her cat was given food

    Thank you so much for your comment

  • cananelicin

    The word bank has two meanings 1) the place where we deposit money 2) river bank ( we say seaside but river bank)
    Thank you so much for your comment

  • cananelicin

    Hope the other Comments help

    Thank you so much

  • Angela

    For mlungisi & osei Jafaro:

    He gave her cat food. –> He gave her CAT (some) food. / He gave HER cat-food. (food which the cat eats)

    John went to the bank. –> ????

    The man saw the boy with the binoculars. –> The man used his binoculars and saw the boy. / The man saw the boy who was holding binoculars.

    They are hunting dogs. –> Describing the kind of dogs that THEY are. / Those people are hunting (action that the people are doing) DOGS. yikes!

    I saw her duck. –> Duck being used an animal belonging to her OR “duck” being an action, as in “she ducked when the ball came flying toward her.”

    I told her books were funny. –> punctuation would help this one: I told her, “books were funny.” / I told (someone), “HER books (possessive) were books.”

    I sais (sic) see you on Sunday. –> I said, “See you on Sunday.” / I said, “See you!” on Sunday.

    I love hunting dogs. –> similar to above…I love hunting-dogs (a category of dogs). / I love hunting (an action that “I” is doing) dogs.

    Will Will will the will to Will? –> Will (question) Will (boys name) will (an action, to give after you’re dead) the will (a plan for what to do with your stuff after you’re dead) to Will (another boy)? OR Will Will will the will (the will to live or survive) to Will?

    ….so, back to my question….what is ambiguous about “John went to the bank”?

    Also, if anyone has any different twists to the above sentences, please post!

  • cananelicin

    Hi Angela,

    You are great. Thanks for the explanation. As for your question, the word bank has two meanings. The second meaning is river bank.

    Thanks :)

  • mpho manyama

    I was never a virgin. Is this an ambiguous sentence?

  • cananelicin

    Dear Mpho Manyama,

    I am really not sure. I guess we should ask a native speaker.
    thanks

  • a

    Bank- Bank were you transfer money/Bank- by the riverbank

  • muneerah

    I told her( what kind of ) books were funny
    I was told that her book were funny

  • bekka

    I would say that “I told her books were funny” is not ambiguous. The verb “told” generally needs to have a receiver, someone who was told. In the supposed “I told (someone) her(-poss.) books were funny” we don’t have a receiver. It sounds weird to my native English ears.

  • vjohnsonblessed1

    1. The mouse is on my desk.

    2. The governor is a dirty street fighter.

  • vjohnsonblessed1

    1. The mouse is on my desk.

    2. Terry loves his wife and so do I.

    3. The governor is dirty street fighter.

    Please explain the different meanings for these sentences.

  • cananelicin

    Thank you. They are really ambigious!!

    canan

  • cananelicin

    1. The word mouse is used for both an animal and a computer tool. So it is not clear which one you mean.
    2. Terry loves his wife –> whose wife? his own wife or someone else’s? Also when you say so do I–> Do I love my wife or Terry’s wife? It is not clear.
    3. The word dirty has got two meanings: one means filthy and the other one is nasty. Which one you mean is not clear again.

    Hope it helps
    best, canan

  • Dineo

    1. Ocean basket ‘your sole provider”
    2. Spur

  • Evelyn

    I shot an elephant in my pyjamas! Is this ambiguous??

  • cananelicin

    Dear Evelyn,
    It is ambigious. Whether you did the action while wearing pyjamas or the elephant was in your pyjamas is not clear!
    Thanks for stopping by

    Canan

  • prisca

    that was really helpful..thx :)

  • Jack Chan

    i got a new one
    After adding water to the saucepan, sit on the hot plate and boil until satisfied.

  • Jack Chan

    I got another one
    Sign in safari park:LIONS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR!!!

  • Blake Chan

    I got another one
    Sign in safari park:LIONS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR!!!

  • Blake Chan

    those are good

  • Blake Chan

    the only thing to do about people who write insulting letters is to toss them straight in the rubbish bin.

  • Maribel

    Hello could you help me with these ambiguous sentences

    Each of the following sentences is ambiguous. Provide paraphrases for the two (or more) interpretations in each case: [10 MARKS.]

    (a) John’s picture hangs in the Tate

    (b) John loves his dog and Bill does too

    (c) What John became was horrible

    (d) Do Americans call cushions what the British call pillows?

    (e) John introduced himself to everyone that Mary did

  • mary

    (a) John’s picture hangs in the Tate

    (b) John loves his dog and Bill does too

    (c) What John became was horrible

    (d) Do Americans call cushions what the British call pillows?

    (e) John introduced himself to everyone that Mary did

    please explain

  • Yoana

    great sentences! it helps me to get more ideas for doing my lesson :D thankyou Canan :)

  • emily eva

    smiling on her, gently shut the door

  • Dimpho

    is the sentence the police watched the man in the woods ambiguous. If yes what are the two meanings please

  • Salma kamal

    please can you identify the type of each sentence if it is lexical or syntactic ambiguity?
    Thanks in advance

  • cananelicin

    I am happy to hear this :)

  • cananelicin

    nice!

  • cananelicin

    Yes, it is. Either the man who is in the woods is being looked for or the police are looking for the man in the woods.

  • cananelicin

    The ambiguity results from syntax mostly

  • Brianna Ponchak

    “John brought a map of Italy.”

    How s this ambiguous?

  • omar

    thank u canan , you are great person
    really thank u .

  • cananelicin

    Thank you Omar. Visit my blog more often for further ideas :)

  • Lusesita Gonzalez

    How are the following sentences ambiguous?
    She likes the cat.
    Melissa reads.
    She is eating.
    I like eggs.
    I like ice cream.
    Zyus is busy
    I have a coach purse.
    We are going to the park.
    Ben has a blue balloon.
    Lucy is going to tap class.

  • Anabel

    I need to explain in detail the ambiguity in the sentence ◾Will Will will the will to Will?
    Please could you help me?
    Thanks

  • cananelicin

    Dear Anabel,

    The first will is future tense aux verb. The second one is a male name. The third means to leave your legacy to someone after you die. The forth is the noun form of the previous one. And the last one is again a male name. So in the sentence there are two Wills: one is the subjec and the other is the object. A similar sentence in form can be Will Jack read the book to Jack?

    Hope it helps :)

  • Anabel

    thanks but I have to give two difference explanations for the same sentence
    the first one is Will Will(person give the testament to Will(another person
    but what I don’t know is the second meaning of the sentence

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