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Consider a function in a computer program which returns a boolean value (true or false).

The output should be false。 can be interpreted as either of the following two:

1. As we expected, the output is false. i.e. it is ought to be false.

2. We expect the output can not be false, but it is strange that the output is indeed false.

If you see the sentence at first, how will you comprehend it?

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Any guidelines for distinguishing them? Yes, the same as for any other word or phrase in English which can have more than one meaning: context. For example, "hit the pin" can mean very different things on the golf course, at the bowling alley, or around the sewing machine. –  J.R. Aug 17 '13 at 0:55
    
Concerning context, it seems to be missing here. May we assume the following context? Consider a function in a computer program which returns a boolean value (true or false). –  twip Aug 17 '13 at 0:58
    
Thanks. I have revised the post. –  xmllmx Aug 17 '13 at 1:28
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You forgot: 3. We expect the output to be false, but, for some reason, the output is true. That's another possible interpretation, but there is no "exact meaning" of a sentence that contains natural ambiguity. But there may be clues. For #1, I'd expect to hear, "The output should be false!" For #3, we might hear, "The output should be false!" Quite frankly, I have trouble understanding why I'd make this exclamation in the case of #2 (I'd probably say instead, "But the output shouldn't be false!), but maybe I'm just missing something. –  J.R. Aug 17 '13 at 1:41
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Why not just change the wording??! "The expected/standard/normal/default output is false." "The actual/current output is ...". Stop messing with interpretation and change the wording used. –  TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 11:01
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closed as unclear what you're asking by Carlo_R., J.R., tchrist, FumbleFingers, TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 11:02

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1 Answer

Should you write the words The output should be false, then it might be a simple statement of the expected result or a description of an unanticipated one.

For most readers, you have already distinguished between these two possible interpretations by the use of an exclamation mark.

The statement "The expected output is False and that is what was observed" would not ordinarily be framed as an exclamation. On the other hand "That is a surprising result, I was expecting the output to be False" might be spoken forcefully.

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Thanks. If without an exclamation mark and context, then how to make a reader distinguish the two interpretations? –  xmllmx Aug 17 '13 at 1:55
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Without context, ANY interpretation is legitimate. –  Fortiter Aug 17 '13 at 9:30
    
@xmllmx By NOT using ambiguous wording. –  TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 11:02
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