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Consider the following two examples:

  1. I’ve heard more vicious rumors.

  2. I’ve heard less vicious rumors.

Which of these examples, if any, can be considered ambiguous in interpretation?

  • Your question looks ambiguous to me. Can you edit your question so that it becomes easy to understand? – Nagarajan Shanmuganathan Mar 23 '16 at 6:54
  • Now that I'm at work and not on my phone I've posted an answer instead of a comment. – John Clifford Mar 23 '16 at 8:28
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    It is pretty darn hard to come up with a useful English sentence which isn't ambiguous, taken out of context. – Hot Licks Mar 23 '16 at 12:30
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Both of them are ambiguous; in fact, your first sentence has three potential interpretations. Let's look at that first.

Imagine you've just heard a nasty rumour about a friend, who knows that people have been spreading rumours about him. You might go to him and say

I've heard more vicious rumours [about you].

What you mean is that you have heard vicious rumours about him in addition to the ones you've heard already.

Now imagine someone you know has stated in conversation how many vicious rumours they have heard to date, and you have heard a higher number. You might say

I've heard more vicious rumours [than you have].

What you mean is the the quantity of vicious rumours you've heard to date exceeds that of your friend.

Now imagine that you've just found out someone has been spreading a nasty rumour about you, but it isn't as bad as other ones that have been spread about you in the past. You might say

I've heard more vicious rumours [than that one].

In this case, rather than "more" being used for quantity, you're using "more vicious" as a modifier for "rumours", saying that you have heard rumours before which are more vicious than the one being discussed.

Some ambiguity exists with the second sentence as well; however, this is mainly because people usually mistakenly use "less" when referring to countable nouns (which rumours are) so if you meant you had heard a lower quantity of rumours than someone else, you'd actually say

I've heard fewer vicious rumours [than someone].

This eliminates the ambiguity as when you use fewer, it's clear you mean quantity, and in an ideal world where people knew the difference, saying

I've heard less vicious rumours [than that one].

Would be obviously interpreted as meaning the same as the third example from the first sentence.

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    Well articulated answer. I would only add that as regards fewer, it could also mean: I've heard fewer vicious rumours [this week than I did last week]. – WS2 Mar 23 '16 at 9:12
  • Good point @WS2. I didn't want to bog an already quite long answer down with every possible interpretation, but you're right that it can mean a comparison of time rather than of another person. – John Clifford Mar 23 '16 at 9:15

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