English is my second language, so be gentle if this seems silly ...

This sentence puzzles me:

China's prolonged silence about its destruction of the Feng Yun 1-C satellite, which it launched in 1999, has been almost as unnerving to its potential enemies (America, Japan and Taiwan especially) as the experiment itself.

In the parentheses does especially apply to only Taiwan or all three countries?

And how about in this sentence?

China's aim is to signal to America and its protégés in Asia—Taiwan and Japan especially...

  • 4
    It's inherently ambiguous as written. You could pause after Taiwan (put a comma there, in writing) to unambiguously indicate only Japan was especially being signalled. Or you could move especially to before Taiwan to unambiguously indicate both were especially being signalled. Jul 16, 2013 at 3:44
  • For some reason, the first seems far more ambiguous to me than the second. I can’t pause or intonate the latter sentence in a way to make it sound like ‘especially’ refers only to Japan, but I can with the first. To single out Japan in the second phrase, I would unwaveringly say either “Taiwan and especially Japan” or “Taiwan and, in particular, Japan”. Is that just me? Jul 16, 2013 at 11:00
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: That's worth posting as an answer, not just a comment. Jul 16, 2013 at 13:56

2 Answers 2


It is a little bit ambiguous, but it seems to apply to the whole list, especially as the list is already a subset of a broader category (e.g., America's "proteges in Asia").

If the list read, for example, "America, Japan, and, especially, Taiwan," the 'especially' would apply only to Taiwan.

  • 1
    Your first sentence depends on making the assumption that America has other "proteges in Asia" besides Taiwan and Japan - which is obviously a matter of opinion, and might be even more so with an alternative but syntactically identical sentence. The second sentence is true enough, but a pause in speech (or a comma in writing, assuming it's not interpreted as an Oxford comma) has the same effect without needing to move the word especially. Jul 16, 2013 at 16:11

It's inherently ambiguous as written. In example #2 you could pause after Taiwan (put a comma there, in writing) to unambiguously indicate only Japan was especially being signalled (but that in the written form that wouldn't work if the reader interpreted it as an Oxford comma).

In short, it's trivial to disambiguate this one in speech, but not 100% certain in the written form.

Of course, you could move especially to an earlier position in the list to unambiguously indicate that all countries following that word were especially being signalled.

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