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I have been given a brain teaser that asks to choose the properly formatted version of the following sentence:

The road runs beside the red houses and the green house and town houses are nearby.

The two options are thus:

  1. The road runs beside the red houses, and the green house and town houses are nearby.

  2. The road runs beside the red houses and the green house, and town houses are nearby.

It seems to me that both answers are grammatically correct, but with two different meanings; either the road is beside only the red house, or it is beside the red and green houses, with the town houses nearby. The question asks which one is grammatically correct.

  • I think the third the ("the green house") triggered me to understand the sentence as (1) on my initial reading. But (2) is still a possible reading. – Nathaniel Nov 18 '15 at 21:27
  • You have a sentence with two possible parsings that mean different things. Why is this a surprise? – deadrat Nov 18 '15 at 21:51
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The only way the meaning could be made precise, without rewording the sentence, would be to introduce some aggressive punctuation.

For example:

The road runs beside the red houses and the green house; and town houses are nearby.

This means that the road runs beside both the red houses and green houses.

But

The road runs beside the red houses; and the green house and town houses are nearby.

this would mean that the road ran only by the red houses.

  • The two options I stated are the only allowed answers, and they are similar to yours. The question is really whether both of these answers are grammatically correct. – splouk Nov 18 '15 at 21:40
  • @splouk With your punctuation the sentences are arguably grammatical, but there is a risk of ambiguity. – WS2 Nov 18 '15 at 21:46
  • This answer only restates what was already in the question, except that it (incorrectly) uses semicolons in place of commas. It doesn't in any way answer the question that was asked. – GentlePurpleRain Nov 18 '15 at 23:17
  • @GentlePurpleRain The question asks Which one is grammatically correct?. They are both grammatically correct. But they carry a high degree of ambiguity. – WS2 Nov 19 '15 at 0:03

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