English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Consider the following sentence taken from some co-operative housing rules:

"Any costs of repairing a suite are the responsibility of the owner of a suite, which could be a different suite from the suite repaired, if the damage was caused by the owner or guest of that suite."

There are two different instances of "suite" in this sentence: The suite that was repaired, and the suite whose owner or guest caused the damage. Does "that suite" refer unambiguously to one instance or another?

share|improve this question

The use of that doesn't remove ambiguity, but it's still possible to infer that that suite refers to the suite that is owned, but not damaged, because the other meaning wouldn't make sense.

Even so, it's a poorly written sentence. I think this would be much clearer:

If a suite owner or a suite owner's guest causes damage to any suite, the suite owner who caused the damage or whose guest caused the damage is responsible for the costs of repair.

share|improve this answer
Your suggested sentence, I think, would have a different legal meaning from the original intent. While the person responsible is more clear, I would add "cause" before "damage". Otherwise you will have changed the impugned practice from "cause damage" to "damage". – alx9r Feb 26 '13 at 21:32
Good point. I've amended accordingly. – Pitarou Feb 26 '13 at 22:01
I've noticed some more potential ambiguities. This is harder than it looks! Hopefully, this latest version won't need any more amendments. – Pitarou Feb 27 '13 at 1:33

As Pitarou says, the sentence you offer remains ambiguous despite the addition of that before the final word suite.

In a situation where you are laying out legal obligations that everyone in a co-operative housing settlement must accept and live by, it's more important to be exact and unambiguous than to avoid word repetitions or to sound interesting. I recommend the following wording as being clear and (therefore) legally enforceable:

All costs incurred in repairing any damage inflicted on a suite by any person (whether the owner of that suite, a guest of that owner, the owner of another suite, or a guest of that second owner) are the responsibility of the suite owner who inflicted the damage or whose guest inflicted the damage.

share|improve this answer
I like the idea, but you've introduced "inflicted" which is a new, undefined term left to interpretation. For example, "inflicted" seems to imply action whereas an owner could "cause" damage by inaction. An example is failing to replace an old hot water tank that then leaks. – alx9r Feb 26 '13 at 21:24
Right. Each term in a legal or quasi-legal notice or rule raises the question of what the term means. Your original notice faces faces definition issues with regard to the terms suite, owner, guest, damage, costs, repairing, and perhaps responsibility. My rewording removes the verb damage in favor of the noun damage and adds the verb inflicted to the list. To clarify that you have a broad meaning of inflicted in mind, you could add "through action or inaction" after the first occurrence of inflicted. Of course by doing so you add action and inaction to the notice. – Sven Yargs Feb 26 '13 at 21:46
The alternative, it seems to me, is to break up the notice into two notices—one covering active damage, which presumably any of the four categories of owners and guests we've identified may commit, and the other covering damage through neglect or inaction, which (I would think) only the owner of the damaged suite would be liable for. – Sven Yargs Feb 26 '13 at 21:51
The first part of the two-part notice would remain unchanged. The second part would read something like this: "In addition, all costs incurred in repairing any damage that results from inaction or neglect with regard to a suite's physical condition that timely action would have prevented are the responsibility of the suite owner." This should cover things like leaving windows open prior to and during a torrential rain that causes water damage. – Sven Yargs Feb 26 '13 at 22:16
Don't forget to add the words "reasonable," "good faith," "aforementioned," "hitherto," "unless," "provided that," "in the event of," "substantial," "deliberate, with malice aforethought," "unforeseen circumstances," "act of God,"--well, you get my facetious point! – rhetorician Feb 27 '13 at 1:53

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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