Many studies have noted social functionality and contribution of helping behaviors, volunteering and altruism towards individuals, groups or institutes.

  1. My question is how can I know "helping behaviors" belongs only to "contribution" or belongs to "contribution" and also "functionality"?

  2. And the my second question is how can I know "social" is an adjective for "functionality" or for "functionality" and also "contribution"?

closed as unclear what you're asking by 200_success, Nathaniel, Jim, Marv Mills, user66974 Dec 21 '15 at 22:40

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  • 1
    I'm not sure how you'd know anything about a sentence that is as poorly written as that one. But in the general case you often have to "just know" -- derive the connections from idiom or from context. – Hot Licks Dec 18 '15 at 23:13

The short answer is: you don't know. These examples are inherently ambiguous.

The only way to know definitively is from the context and the reader's interpretation. For example, in the sentence:

The red car and bunny were both there.

Since a car can be red and a bunny (generally) can't be, it's safe to assume that red only modifies car.

But consider the sentence:

The happy boy and girl were both there.

There is no way to be certain as to whether just the boy is happy or both children are happy.

If it's essential to be clear on the meaning, the sentence must be reworded.

With that said, I would personally interpret your example sentence as:

Many studies have noted (social functionality) and (contribution of (helping behaviors, volunteering and altruism) towards individuals, groups or institutes).

This is not the only, definitive interpretation—just my own.

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