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In a recent quiz there was a question:

A man coming out of the backdoor of his house which is facing east...

Now in this scenario whether Should I consider 'the house is facing east,' or 'the backdoor is facing east'??

Edit:

As suggested by most people its a ambiguous question, so I am posting complete question if it helps..

A man coming out of the backdoor of his house which is facing east, walked for one kilometer, turned to his right and walked for another kilometer. Then he turned to his right and walked a kilometer again. Where was he from his house at the end.

a) 1 km away to the north b) 1 km away to the south c) 1 km away to the east d) 1 km away to the west

If we assume the house is facing east, the answer will be 'a', and if we assume the backdoor facing east, it'll be 'b'.

My second question what would be the interpretation if it had a comma like this:

A man coming out of the backdoor of his house, which is facing east...

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You want to read the Deixis Lectures, especially No. 2 'Space'. –  John Lawler Mar 2 '13 at 3:57
1  
This is tricky; it seems like some measure of ambiguity is unavoidable unless the sentence gets restructured. I also wonder if a comma might make a difference: A man coming out of the backdoor of his house, which is facing east... –  J.R. Mar 2 '13 at 4:34
3  
To me this seems entirely ambiguous. Just a poorly worded sentence. –  Ataraxia Mar 2 '13 at 5:27
    
Thank you for responses..I had a bad feeling about the sentence too, but that is how it was given, and later part is completely based on the direction..The reason I asked was because it was one of the most reputed exams in India..'ssc'(staff selection commission), which is used for admission for all bureaucratic positions.. –  Rajat Singhal Mar 2 '13 at 7:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

That is too ambiguous. It is impossible to figure out if it is the house that is facing east or the backdoor, unless more details regarding of the direction are given.

A man coming out of the backdoor of his house which is facing east witnessed the beautiful sunrise.

[updates]

Given that this question appeared in an exam and it is about direction, the most logical way to analyze it is to perceive it from the perspective of the question setter. If I were the question setter and I was planning to have choice B as the correct answer, it would be more sensible to set the question as "A man coming out of his house which is facing east...", instead of giving extra information about where the man came out of his house (which can have an impact on the question as these very few words can change the answer from B into A) and later assigning east to the direction the backdoor faces, making its answer the same as of the question that is not as explicit. Therefore, it would be more logical for the question setter to specify the direction which the house is facing but not the backdoor's. And thus I would go with option A.

Regarding of the second question: I don't think a comma would make much difference in this scenario.

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Thank you for response..I had a bad feeling about the sentence too, but that is how it was given, and later part is completely based on the direction..I have updated my question with complete question..The reason I asked was because it was one of the most reputed exams in India..'ssc'(staff selection commission), which is used for admission for all bureaucratic positions.. –  Rajat Singhal Mar 2 '13 at 7:53
    
@RajatSinghal You are welcome. Viewing the entire question does help in some way. Now I think it is the house that is facing east. –  0a -archy Mar 2 '13 at 8:51
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Thank you for the explanation..the given answer is also 'a', which means house facing east..it makes some sense..:) –  Rajat Singhal Mar 2 '13 at 9:08

It is clearly the door which is facing east, which gives enough information for the calculation. Otherwise, a back door on a house could face any direction. Just because the door is at the back of the house doesn't necessitate facing directly opposite to front of house, even if it was a simplistic four sided house.

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I actually think yours is the correct answer here, not the one that was selected. –  tchrist Mar 2 '13 at 15:38
    
I agree, there's no reason why a back door should be directly opposite the front of the house. The question is badly worded for an exam. –  Mynamite Mar 3 '13 at 20:03
    
It's been a while since school. However, we were instructed to take the most plausible meaning of a question. In this case, it is that the back door faces east. –  Chris Mar 4 '13 at 6:37
    
In usual scenario I agree that it is not necessary for the back door to face the opposite direction as the house and therefore it is more logical for the back door to be the one that faces east. However, please remember that this question appears in an exam for non-native English speakers. –  0a -archy Mar 5 '13 at 11:56
    
Imagine you are taking a foreign language exam and you come across this question. (Let's say it is in French.) The phrase "la porte de derrière", which means "the back door", definitely plays an important role in a question about direction. If the direction of it is given at the very first place, then it is equivalent to having it not playing any role in the question: people who fail to understand what this phrase means can still get the answer right, even though "derrière" is another word that has to do with direction. –  0a -archy Mar 5 '13 at 12:01

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