Topics having to do with multiple meanings of a word or phrase.

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4answers
26k views

“A good memory” vs. “good memories”

If I say, "I don't have a good memory of my childhood", would it imply that I cant recollect it or that I have bad memories (bad stories, unhappy) childhood? I think that "good memories" implies the ...
4
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2answers
1k views

Ambiguity when a sentence contains multiple possessive pronouns

I have a question related to another one that I have asked. In the following sentence, whose father is being referenced? Billy’s friend and his father were there. In the following re-structured ...
4
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3answers
2k views

What is the difference between “illness” and “disease”?

Are there any differences when those words are used? By whom they are used? Google n-gram All English English fiction: I would guess that "illness" is rather a term which is used in spoken ...
4
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2answers
444 views

Can I use the word “must” in subjunctive mood?

I'm a student in China. Our English exam has a grammar item. 54.My boss ordered that the legal documents __ to him before lunch. A.be sent B.were sent C.were to be sent D.must be ...
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3answers
79 views

“This page intentionally blank” … but it isn't!

We are all familiar with user manuals or documents with pages printed with "intentionally blank" ... but with those words on them, they are no longer blank! I'm pretty sure I saw a user manual once ...
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3answers
94 views

Difficulty in interpreting a statute

In my home state, there is a statute regarding child seats. § 20-137.1. Child restraint systems required. (a) Every driver who is transporting one or more passengers of less than 16 ...
4
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3answers
509 views

Meaning of “Discretion”

I saw this dictionary entry, and it says "discretion" could mean approximately either 1) the right to choose what to do or 2) the quality of being careful what you do. The dictionary has these two ...
4
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6answers
119 views

In the phrase “No more than two cats or dogs”, how many total pets are possible?

It seems this phrase can be read in two ways: A) No more than 2 (cats or dogs) [2 total] B) No more than 2 cats or (2) dogs [4 total] Does this phrase have a singular meaning, or is it ambiguous?
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2answers
27k views

Are the expressions: “You needn't” and “You don't need to” different in meaning? [duplicate]

While doing some research on a comment I had read on ELL I read the following excerpt from a website called e.grammar You needn't listen to him. (You don't have to listen to him.) x You don't ...
4
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3answers
153 views

How to use the phrase “come doing” properly?

How do you use the phrase 'come doing' properly? On the one hand, 'come doing' means that someone comes for doing something. For example, "Why not come dancing tonight?". This sentence never means ...
4
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2answers
624 views

Why does the word “tortilla” refer to three distinct types of edibles?

The crisps[BrEn]/chips[AmEn] that are made of corn (and probably not deep-fried) are called tortilla: The wraps with that special taste, are called tortila: And then, the omelet-like meal is ...
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1answer
3k views

Fall Hard For Something

I am trying to find the right definition of "hard" in this piece of writing: newspaper Looking for a tranquil hideaway after years as a paparazzi magnet, Mr. Frazier bought the single-level ...
4
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1answer
3k views

What is the meaning of “sanity” in “sanity check”?

The phrase "sanity check" comes up often in programming, e.g. It's a good sanity check before attempting to decrypt the key. Usually, its context is one in which a commonly assumed state (e.g. ...
4
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4answers
14k views

Meaning of “I feel so helpless”

What is the phrase "I feel so helpless" supposed to mean? Is it "I feel as though I am unable to offer help" or "I feel as though no one could help me?" I saw it in a movie, and always thought it ...
4
votes
2answers
107 views

I'd know my life before I had even lived it

Girl: "I've made my decision, Father". Her Father: "You've ruined so many prospects, Lucy". Girl: "Hmm.Nothing but boys, following in their father's footsteps. I'd know my life before I ...
3
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2answers
593 views

Should I follow English conventions, or write what sounds better?

How a sentence sounds when read aloud or in your head can often "sound" different for each individual doing so; however, I was reading details regarding the usage of "data" and "datum" and was ...
3
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7answers
307 views

How do I make “X is the thing I wanted to win” unambiguous?

When I say, StackExchange is the website I wanted to win (in an implied context of best website award), it sounds like I wanted to win (own) StackExchange, whereas I'm trying to imply that I wanted ...
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3answers
5k views

The meaning of: “Why don't you just beat it?”

I would like to know what does this phrase means: "Why don't you just beat it?" My dictionary says only that: beat it: get lost Can you beat it? : Do you get it?
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8answers
423 views

Nested parentheticals — restructuring for clarity

It's widely known that the name "JavaScript" is trademarked by Oracle (formerly a trademark of Sun, formerly a trademark of Netscape). What was formerly a trademark of Netscape? Sun? Oracle? ...
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2answers
322 views

Is “to fight with” ambiguous?

I've read about a Dutch volunteer, who died in Syria "fighting with the rebels". Obviously from the context you could understand, that he was fighting for the rebels, against the government troops. ...
3
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2answers
1k views

“Heard of anything” or “heard anything”

I always think when you use hear, of should follow it like heard of anything. But I saw I haven't heard anything from him. Is that correct, or should it be I haven't heard of anything from ...
3
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2answers
7k views

The etymology of “religion” comes from “legere” meaning to read + “re” meaning again. Or does it? (more inside) [closed]

The etymology of religion as mentioned in the title comes from Etymonline. And that's very interesting. It makes sense too. My question is, how do the phrases, "to read", "to choose", "to gather", ...
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3answers
2k views

Difference between “ad hoc” and “impromptu” [closed]

Is there any difference between "ad hoc" and "impromptu"? Can you find sentences where only one of the words is acceptable and the other is not? And where they are interchangeable? What about the ...
3
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2answers
632 views

“Even that she left lying”

In a story titled "Prelude" written by "Katherine Mansfield" I came across the following sentence in this paragraph: The fireplace was choked up with rubbish. She poked among it but found ...
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3answers
1k views

Ambiguous use of infinitive after “It's needed”

After writing this sentence, I found myself thinking that its meaning may be a little confusing to other people: It’s needed to make clear some issues regarding absences. I used the phrase to ...
3
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3answers
2k views

Should “that” or “it” be used in this sentence?

People say things like ‘all publicity is good publicity’ but that isn't always true. Should that in the sentence above be replaced with it? It's sort of ambiguous as to what that is referring to, ...
3
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3answers
330 views

Does “someone appeared to help me” have two meanings?

Someone appeared to help me. If I get it right, this sentence can either mean: "It seems like someone was helping me." (seems like = appear to) "Someone showed up to help me." (show up = ...
3
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2answers
575 views

SAT Writing ambiguous pronoun error?

Can anyone please explain why this sentence is incorrect? When Russell Wallace and Darwin independently proposed similar theories, Darwin had already accumulated extensive evidence with which ...
3
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1answer
192 views

It was established on a rocky foundation [closed]

It was established on a rocky foundation. Does it mean steady or shaky?
3
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5answers
790 views

Does this type of grammatical construction give an ambiguous meaning?

A girl was found in a house belonging to one of two criminals; is it correct to express this in the following way: The girl was found in one of the criminals' houses. Does the plural use of 'house' ...
3
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4answers
200 views

Parse tree of “the ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena in present-day Colombia”

There is a Wikipedia article with the following line: Drake sailed to the New World and sacked the ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena in present-day Colombia. Never mind the facts as we might ...
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4answers
302 views

Meaning of “The Lord is on our side”

Written in 1836 in Texas P.S. The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got ...
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2answers
516 views

Where to put an adjective to avoid ambiguity?

The essence of this question is not about style. It is foremost about avoiding ambiguity. The sentence is "She called me." If I want to use the word "sniffling" to describe the caller, where should I ...
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7answers
748 views

A person who goes to gymnastics school — a 'student' or a 'pupil?'

I am trying to find an exact answer of this question: Is a person who goes to gymnastics school a 'student' or a 'pupil?'
3
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2answers
549 views

Is “I don't work here” literal or does it mean “I am not an employee of this establishment”? [closed]

Part of my work involves visiting retail establishments during business hours. Often, when mistaken for an employee of the store, I am asked a question about where to find something in the store, to ...
3
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2answers
440 views

Non-idiomatic “would be a rare X that Y”: “…would be a rare hurricane that…”

In following, a writer quotes and summarizes Bill Read's remarks regarding Hurricane Irene: “This is not just a coastal event,” said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center. He said ...
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5answers
312 views

How do I pluralize the coffee drink “shot in the dark”?

For those that do not know, there is a coffee drink that is sometimes called a shot in the dark. It consists of an espresso shot poured into a regular cup of Joe. Suppose that I would like to order ...
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3answers
1k views

Is the verb “hustle” used mostly positively or negatively these days?

I am confused about the uses of the word hustle. According to the dictionary, to hustle means a lot of negative things, like: force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified ...
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3answers
190 views

Counting stops without ambiguity

A typical conversation on a bus: Alice: Have we reached our stop yet, Bob? Bob: No, Alice. Two more stops to go. Alice: Do you mean "two more stops, then ours" or "one more stop, then ...
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3answers
1k views

“Small Latin and Less Greek”

About a third of the way through his poem "To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us," Ben Jonson writes: And though thou hadst small Latin and less ...
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1answer
1k views

Interpreting the meaning of 'but' as an implication for exclusion/inclusion

I often find it difficult to interpret the meaning of but in some of the sentences where it is used to imply exclusion/inclusion. For example: Drink everything you want but alcohol. Also, sometimes ...
3
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2answers
273 views

<Grammar/Style> Ambiguous “it”

I recently stumbled upon this joke employing some grammar: Q: How can you drop an egg on a concrete floor without cracking it? A: Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack. ...
3
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2answers
185 views

Antecedent Precedence?

Background: I was working on a project and was having a colleague of mine proof-read a piece of documentation. He said that one sentence was ambiguous because he couldn't determine what the antecedent ...
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2answers
238 views

Is ”If I leave, it’s because Bob has arrived” ambiguous?

If I leave, it’s because Bob has arrived. Does this mean: Bob has not arrived yet. When Bob does arrive (shortly), I may leave. Bob is here now and requesting my attention. Therefore, I may ...
3
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1answer
470 views

Interpretation of the adjective “outstanding”

In my holidays I met a woman who is originally from Australia. She told me she lived in many places due to her husband's work and also traveled much around the world. Although she's already seen many ...
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4answers
1k views

Semantic or pragmatic ambiguity?

When one says "Do you want a cup of coffee?" he can mean: either an informative question — "Do you feel a desire to a cup of coffee?", or a polite offer — "I can make you a cup of coffee if you ...
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1answer
747 views

Using the word “difference” in the meaning “result of subtraction” taking into account the negative values

The result of subtraction is called "difference". At first glance it might seem that it shouldn't cause an ambiguity over the value denoted by this word; until we stumble upon subtractions that ...
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2answers
101 views

A sentence with double negative [closed]

I came across the following sentence in Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse Five. “Trout would have gone upstairs if Billy hadn't asked him not to.” If this sentence is considered independently, ...
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2answers
983 views

What does “feeling a little precious” mean? [duplicate]

I ran across this phrase in a video made by an Australian walking the Camino de Santiago. He describes a horrible sleep-deprived night and suffering from food poisoning, and states that he's feeling a ...
3
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1answer
301 views

“Tabled”, US vs UK [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What is the meaning of the expression “We can table this”? Here's an example snippet for some context. Ann had an idea. We tabled her idea. In the UK this means ...