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I'm having some trouble with rewriting sentences that have ambiguous pronouns in a way that doesn't sound awkward or stilted. For example:

Annie grabbed Sarah by the arm and pulled the other girl into her room.

In this case, it doesn't seem to be very clear who the room belongs to. Writing it as "Annie grabbed Sarah by the arm and pulled the other girl into Annie's room" makes it clearer but sounds very awkward to me. Is there a good way to deal with this?

  • It's called lexical ambiguity – NVZ Sep 8 '16 at 16:17
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    @NVZ: actually, this is a case of referential ambiguity. The syntax is also involved. – sumelic Sep 8 '16 at 17:08
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Like BradC said, context helps avoid ambiguity. For example:

Annie grabbed Sarah by the arm and pulled the other girl into her room. Slamming the behind them, Annie released Sarah's arm and plopped down on her bed.

"Ok, tell me everything!", Annie said, excitedly

Here, the context clarifies the ambiguity. The second sentence removes the other girl from the context, inferring that since she sat down on her bed, it was her room. Most human speech relies on contextual clues in order to define meaning, a trait upon which much humor is based.

Another tactic is to separate the action into two sentences so using the proper noun doesn't sound as strange.

Annie grabbed Sarah by the arm. Pulling Sarah behind her, they entered Annie's room.

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First of all, "the other girl" seems a bit unnatural; I think it would be totally fine to substitute another "her":

Annie grabbed Sarah by the arm and pulled her into her bedroom.

or perhaps:

Annie grabbed Sarah by the arm and pulled her into the bedroom.

Whose bedroom could be inferred from the prior context: whose house are they in, for example?

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    In fact, ‘the other girl’ makes it sound like Annie is pulling some completely unrelated girl into Sarah’s bedroom. Simply replacing it with her makes it at least reasonably clear that it's Annie’s bedroom—or at least that's how I'd read it naturally. The is even more ambiguous: it leaves open the possibility that the bedroom belongs to neither girl, but to someone else entirely. (Of course, if Annie and Sarah are sisters with adjoining rooms, standing out in the hallway in front of those rooms, then context won't necessarily be enough either.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '16 at 18:59

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