1

The purpose is not to dance like an elephant.

I see two ways of interpreting this sentence:

  1. It is incorrect to say that "dance like an elephant" is the goal.
  2. The objective is to prevent dancing like an elephant.

How should the sentence be re-written to avoid the ambiguity, if the desired meaning is (1) or (2), respectively?


Edit: perhaps I should give more context info about how this question came to me.

I want to write a document which should be referred to as a guideline rather than hard rules. I describe my intent with:

The purpose of this document is not to enforce rules or regulations.

However, I want to avoid the interpretation "the author wishes to stop enforcing rules and regulations".

  • The sentence is totally ambiguous. The "purpose" could be to elect a president, blow up a dam, write a poem, et al -- all are not dancing like an elephant. – Hot Licks Aug 14 '15 at 16:29
2

One simple way to indicate unambiguously that "It is incorrect to say that "dance like an elephant" is the goal" is to reorder the sentence as

Dancing like an elephant is not the purpose [or goal] of this exercise [or whatever].

One simple way to indicate that "The objective is to prevent dancing like an elephant" is to say

The purpose [or goal] is to avoid dancing like an elephant.

3
  1. The purpose isn't to dance like an elephant.

  2. The purpose is to not dance like an elephant.

  • (2) is ok. However, "isn't" is not a choice in formal writings, which, in this case, an operation document. – kevin Aug 14 '15 at 15:29
  • @kevin, in that case use the longhand "is not" . I would think that would be easily managed. – Yeshe Aug 14 '15 at 15:33

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