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Someone appeared to help me.

If I get it right, this sentence can either mean:

  1. "It seems like someone was helping me." (seems like = appear to)
  2. "Someone showed up to help me." (show up = appear)

Am I right?

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It could even mean "Someone made it look like he/she was helping me". – Guffa Mar 27 '11 at 1:55
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You are right. The only thing I'd like to add is that, in case it means "someone seems to be helping me", you'd use the continuous form "be helping" in most contexts, not the simple infinitive "help", because it is about someone who is busy helping you now.

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Yes. This is called lexical ambiguity.

In related news, "Time flies like an arrow" has seven possible meanings.

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I fear that inflation has overtaken you: it now lists eleven not seven. – tchrist Aug 16 '12 at 17:18

You're right. It's an amibiguous sentence, though entirely correct. This is what technical editors call "bad communication."

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