This question already has an answer here:

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 construct the sentence for each meaning?

marked as duplicate by James Waldby - jwpat7, tchrist, FumbleFingers, Andrew Leach, MetaEd Mar 8 '13 at 0:14

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    As it stands, the sentence is inherently ambiguous - assuming you accept that the dog may have attacked its own friends (we know it's likely to attack cats). You can remove that residual ambiguity for the most likely interpretation by saying and the cat's friends, but for the "improbable" sense you'd probably want more radical rephrasing (it would be an unusual thing to say, so you could reasonably use quite a few more words to get the message across accurately). – FumbleFingers Mar 7 '13 at 18:03
  • 1
    I don't think this is answered in this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/7125/… since it is a short sentence and despite its brevity, there is substantial ambiguity. I'm voting to keep it open. – Kristina Lopez Mar 7 '13 at 19:06
  • Bill attacked Mas and his friends has the same ambiguity. And so does Bill asked me to attack Max and his friends. A pronoun can refer to any NP it matches that occurs before it, in the same clause, or in a higher clause. There are unambiguous ways to state what you mean, if it's important; but this one is ambiguous. – John Lawler Mar 7 '13 at 19:44
  • Welcom RichB! +1 for inspiring the interesting comments that though are not really the intention of this site, I feel bring out the most granular essence of language and more importantly, clear communication. (Acknowledging that my comment here is rambling and less that crystal clear - how ironic!) :-) – Kristina Lopez Mar 7 '13 at 23:58
  • Antedecent or Antecedent? I am not aware of such a term as "Antedecent". – Blessed Geek Mar 8 '13 at 4:30

This is too ambiguous. It is impossible to tell whose friends its friends are referring to.


belonging to or associated with a thing previously mentioned or easily identified.

There are two things mentioned previously in the sentence and both can be identified as the one it is associated with.


To answer the part of your question regarding how to restate the sentence most clearly, I would go with

The dog attacked the cat and the other dogs.


The dog attacked the cats.

(I'm not sure why you would need to define any of the animals' "friends")

  • 2
    You're assuming the cat's friends are also cats ;-) – Jim Mar 7 '13 at 20:29
  • @Jim, you're right! It could be the cat and its iguana friends! :-) – Kristina Lopez Mar 7 '13 at 20:39
  • @KristinaLopez: Does its in your comment refer to the dog or the cat? – TimLymington Mar 7 '13 at 23:14
  • The cat, @TimLymington, and point taken. Jim had narrowed the cast of characters to cats so my reply was intended to exclude the dog (species prejudice! lol!) – Kristina Lopez Mar 7 '13 at 23:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.