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

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32
votes
4answers
20k views

How to answer a negative question without ambiguity?

I faced a problem to answer a negative question, for example When someone ask you: Don't you have any money? It's a yes/no question but how should one answer the question without ambiguity? ...
18
votes
2answers
20k views

“All but” idiom has two meanings?

Here's two ways I've seen the "all, but" idiom used: "Close all tabs but this one" (Any modern application with a number of tabs might have this as an option.) It means "close all the tabs, but not ...
15
votes
7answers
41k views

What is the difference between “nothing but”, “anything but”, and “everything but”?

What is the difference between these phrases? When is it valid to use which? Should they be avoided as being ambiguous?
12
votes
3answers
3k views

How can I distinguish “can” & “can't” from pronunciation?

It's very difficult for me to separate them. I was just listening to some video and it said "Fat cells can’t reproduce themselves." What I thought I've heard is "... CAN reproduce ..." Frankly, ...
15
votes
2answers
20k views

“X times as many as” or “X times more than”

Suppose John has 5 sweets. Is there any difference between the following two sentences? Jack has 3 times as many sweets as John. Jack has 3 times more sweets than John. I prefer the first ...
13
votes
3answers
1k views

How are pronouns resolved?

Are pronouns in English resolved syntactically or semantically? Do they always refer to the closest matching noun? A wikipedia article has these examples: We gave the bananas to the monkeys ...
10
votes
2answers
6k views

Use of “Or”, inclusive or exclusive?

My wife and I are playing a game where you roll dice and move so many spaces in a grid "vertically or horizontally". In the use of English it is very common to say, this or the other when it comes ...
2
votes
8answers
11k views

Does “until [date]” mean “before that date”?

What does until mean in the following? You need to deliver this product within 2 days (until August 18, 2011) to meet your deadline and get paid. Does this mean that I have to deliver the ...
2
votes
5answers
399 views

“the same” and “that particular one”

Consider I'm driving the same car. It sounds like me and someone else share one and the same car. But I could mean that my car is just another copy of the same model of the car. How do I express ...
0
votes
1answer
1k views

Is “in [some period]” different from “within [some period]”?

Q1: "I'll finish this job within 5 days" definitely means the job is expected to cost 5 days or less. However, does "I'll finish this job in 5 days" mean exactly the same? Q2: Can we say, "I'll ...
3
votes
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 ...
0
votes
4answers
948 views

“Everything is not…”

I keep hearing people say everything is not… which frustrating because it is ambiguous. It could mean either Nothing is… (for the set of all things, no thing is…) or Not everything is… (for ...
22
votes
5answers
11k views

How should I address someone with a known name and unknown gender?

When communicating with foreign cultures, the gender of the addressed person is not always clear from the name. What would be a professional way to address someone in this situation. (Dear Mr or Ms ...
11
votes
8answers
5k views

Ambiguity of “quite”

The adverb "quite" has the following meanings according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary: 1: wholly, completely ("not quite finished") 2: to an extreme : positively "quite sure" —often ...
6
votes
1answer
5k views

Controversy over verb choice in “neither you nor I {is/am/are} in control”

I was watching the film A Game of Shadows starring Robert Downey Junior and Jude law when this line came up, "...neither you nor I is in control..." (I can’t remember the exact words that ended the ...
7
votes
5answers
377 views

“Gadhafi forces retreat” - how do you understand that?

Our local newspaper had the headline today "Gadhafi forces retreat" and I read it with "retreat" as the verb instead of "forces" as the verb. I know it is a poorly written headline, but which way is ...
3
votes
2answers
134 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 ...
3
votes
2answers
4k 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?
-1
votes
3answers
3k views

“Within” and “in” when referring to time

I know that both can mean "inside" but what I don't have clear is whether both mean the same when talking about time. For example: The party is in two days = The party is within two days ?? ...
5
votes
9answers
4k views

Usage of “East Indian” to distinguish from “Native American”

I know someone who uses the term "East Indian" to refer to people from India, or whose ancestors are from India, lest they be misunderstood to mean Native American. This struck me as unusual and ...
14
votes
4answers
38k views

How should “midnight on…” be interpreted?

From what I understand, the word "midnight" is usually interpreted incorrectly. Midnight is written as "12am" which would imply that it's in the morning. Therefore, it should be at the start of the ...
4
votes
2answers
254 views

Is “Betty learned that Albert telephoned after Isaiah visited” ambiguous?

Betty learned that Albert telephoned after Isaiah visited. Can anybody explain whether "after Isaiah visited" tell us: (1) when Betty learned something about Albert or (2) when Albert telephoned? ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

Arguable (“susceptible to doubt”) vs arguable (“susceptible to being supported”)

According to dictionary.com, the adjective arguable has two definitions susceptible to debate, challenge, or doubt; questionable: Whether this is the best plan of action or not is arguable. ...
1
vote
2answers
97 views

Ambiguity in Negation: “John did not come because of the rain”

John did not come because of the rain. This sentence seems to allow the following two completely different interpretations. John did not come. And the reason was the rain. John came. But the ...
9
votes
5answers
23k views

What is the meaning of the expression “We can table this”?

This came up in an email discussion - we are arguing about the merits and demerits of a certain approach, and I mentioned what I thought was a drawback to a scheme. To that, my colleague replied : ...
5
votes
1answer
70 views

Can you distinguish the permission to do something from the license, an official document?

According to the dictionary, licence/license refers to an official document which proves you are permitted to do something. What, then, is the word for the permission itself? I'm from Korea, and in ...
4
votes
3answers
4k views

Difference between “take a taxi” and “get a taxi”

Which of the following is correct? If both are correct, do they have different meanings or usage? Take a taxi/bus/train OR Get a taxi/bus/train
4
votes
4answers
30k views

Does the term “within 7 days” mean include the 7th day? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Is “in [some period]” different from “within [some period]”? The title states it all: When an author says "within 7 days", does the author mean ...
0
votes
3answers
197 views

Difference between “college” and “university”

I have seen the words college and university sometimes mixed in the same article. But there are lots of sources where only one is used. I've looked up them in various dictionaries, but couldn't figure ...
0
votes
2answers
879 views

Can “myself” stand for both “me” and “I” in “my mother and I/me”? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: When is it correct to use “yourself” and “myself” (versus “you” and “me”)? In one of my older questions I asked for an ...
60
votes
9answers
10k views

Why is the word “Holy” used before swear words?

People usually use the word "Holy" before "Shit", "Crap" or any other bad words to express their feelings, like surprise, anger, etc. Is there any reason why the word "Holy" is used with these bad ...
25
votes
6answers
9k views

What is the difference between “archetype” and “prototype”?

I'm very confused by the difference between "archetype" and "prototype", and even more baffled when to use which. Can someone clarify?
4
votes
10answers
672 views

Phrase meaning “North, but not directly North, from here”

I have 40 characters to give hints to users about the location of a "prize" (Broken up into two lines of 20 characters.) There is some ambiguity when I send the following hint: The prize is somewhere ...
4
votes
2answers
413 views

Books and other things with the same name

Is it proper to say "the book and movie Of Mice and Men" even though the two identical terms "Of Mice and Men" do not refer to the same entity? An alternative would be "the book Of Mice and Men and ...
2
votes
3answers
531 views

Is “out” a preposition or an adverb in these sentences?

Is out a preposition or an adverb in these sentences? "We need to get the hell out of this place." "We need to get out and leave this place."
2
votes
2answers
5k views

When is between inclusive and when exclusive?

It seems that the exact meaning of between is very tied to its specific usage. What should I assume in a general situation about the inclusivity of between. Consider: "Pick a number between 1 and ...
2
votes
3answers
7k views

A word to describe a situation where something said has multiple meanings? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: A word with a wide range of meanings Is there a word that describes a situation where someone says something that has multiple meanings? or can be taken multiple ways. ...
2
votes
4answers
833 views

Is “once you stop to think about it” ambiguous?

I tripped over a phrase in a book similar to "Once you stop to think about it, the existence of rainbows is pretty amazing." Now, in context, it is pretty clear that I am supposed to stop my usual ...
1
vote
2answers
129 views

Antedecent of “its” in “the dog attacked the cat and its friends” [duplicate]

The dog attacked the cat and its friends. Does the sentence imply that the dog attacked the cat and the cat's friends or that it attacked the cat and the dog's friends? How would one properly ...
17
votes
5answers
2k views

Etymology of “nick” in, in the nick of time?

We have the nick meaning prison, as in "he served time in the nick", then we have the verb to nick, meaning to steal; but if the police catch you red-handed, then "you've been nicked". And if you led ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

Does “speak in a low voice” refer to volume/loudness or to pitch?

Does the low in Speak in a low voice! He said in a low voice. refer to the volume/loudness or to the pitch? Does it mean quiet, or low-frequency? EDIT: After understanding from your ...
7
votes
4answers
3k views

Quintessential vs essential?

While quintessential means 'representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class' [OED], it defines essential as 'absolutely necessary; extremely important'. I have noticed frequent ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

“Connotation” vs. “Definition”

There seems to be some ambiguity between the connotation and definition of a word / word group / phrase. The dictionary entry seems to be that a definition is more of a primary description of a word ...
5
votes
5answers
940 views

She was carrying twins and a bulky bag in her hands [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Using verbs with multiple meanings I am not sure if this is Indian English but the verb carry is often used in India to speak of a pregnant woman and often without an ...
5
votes
1answer
584 views

How do you disambiguate phrases like “killing doctors” when you can't use an article? [closed]

In singular, indefinite articles help to disambiguate some phrases, like for example: a killing doctor Would be a doctor who kills people. versus killing a doctor Would be an act of ...
4
votes
1answer
1k 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
votes
2answers
482 views

“Has reported” as present perfect vs. “has” as present + “reported” as a noun

In the following sentence below, I want to use the word reported as a noun, but it looks like I’m using the present perfect form has reported. How can one be clear when constructions like this ...
4
votes
4answers
509 views

An ambiguity problem with “the first thing you remember”

I'm having an ambiguity problem with the following sentence: What's the first thing you remember? If I'm right, it may mean either: 1) What is the first thing you can recall, the furthest in ...
3
votes
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 ...
3
votes
5answers
574 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' ...