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Is it correct if you say "We heard you like burgers" and mean that 'you' like burgers and 'we' heard that 'you' like it?

Can it also be interpreted as 'we' heard 'you' speak like burgers?

Do you have to add a comma to avoid misinterpretation?

  • Ha! I can't.... – NVZ Jul 2 '17 at 18:05
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    Actually it's spelled "burghers", and you're accusing the guy of being a cannibal. – Hot Licks Jul 2 '17 at 18:23
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    If it is spoken, there is a different sound between the two meanings, a brief pause and different inflection. In the common meaning, it would be similar to "[We heard], [you like burgers]". In the other meaning it would be "[We heard you], [like burgers]." The pause could be much less perceptible than a comma, but that is how the phrasing would sound. – fixer1234 Jul 2 '17 at 18:50
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    EVERYTHING IN ENGLISH can be misinterpreted; it is a staggeringly ambiguous language. Commas do nothing. – Fattie Jul 3 '17 at 0:44
  • “I’m sure someone could come up with a sentence where the alternative interpretation does make sense and can lead to confusion.” I could quote the mountain climber who remarked to his colleague, “I hear you like an echo” — but that would be too easy. Similarly, “Buffalo buffalo buffalo like buffalo” is a gimme. The classic amusing example of like/like ambiguity is “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” … (Cont’d) – Scott Jul 5 '17 at 22:42
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"We heard you like burgers" does have inherent structural ambiguity - I actually read the question like this originally! (We heard you) (like burgers). Meaning we heard you in the same manner that burgers would. However you cannot fix this ambiguity with a comma - it would not be correct to use one in this sentence (I'm imagining you're thinking of saying "we heard, you like burgers," which would show the necessary split between the parts of the sentence, but wouldn't be good comma use).

What you need to correct this ambiguity is the word "that." "We heard (that) you like burgers."

I started this post by claiming structural ambiguity, but I believe the ambiguity is lexical, arising from the use of "like." I the sentence were "we heard you had burgers," there would be no ambiguity - therefore the issue is the ability of "like" to occur as a part of speech other than verb.

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    But really you don't need the that because the alternative interpretation is nonsensical and not problematic – Unrelated Jul 2 '17 at 17:06
  • Yes, the sentence will be understood (eventually) without the that, even if (like I did) the person reading thinks maybe their encountering a new idiom and spends a few seconds trying to figure out what "like burgers" could mean. The "that" is unnecessary, it just leads to faster comprehension - though a contextualizing paragraph would likely serve the same purpose. – MAA Jul 2 '17 at 17:11
  • @Unrelated I'm sure someone could come up with a sentence where the alternative interpretation does make sense and can lead to confusion. This answer is correct in that a) "that" is allowed, while a comma is not, and b) adding "that" removes the ambiguity. – Mr Lister Jul 2 '17 at 17:22
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    Without context, I interpreted the OP's sentence oddly, it seems that the person speaks or make noises as if they were (like) hamburgers. And, yes, it doesn't make sense but that's why I visited the page in the first place! – Mari-Lou A Jul 2 '17 at 18:00
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    Funnily enough, in the real world the sentence "We heard that you like burgers..." would almost certainly be interpreted as a sentence fragment, with the next part to come. I'd assume someone was saying ... "We heard that you, like burgers .." hence, the next part would be, say, "We heard that you, like burgers, are 30% fat" or "We heard that you, like burgers, care for your city and are in a statue" (hah hah) or "We heard that you, like burgers, are the best part of the 4th of July weekend" – Fattie Jul 3 '17 at 0:52
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Burgers do not have ears! Burgers cannot hear. Neither you nor I have the ability to hear any sound in the same way that a burger can hear a sound because burgers don't have ears.

It makes sense the way you have it. "We heard you like burgers."

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