# Does this sentence have two meanings?

A couple of math teacher colleagues of mine are discussing two interpretations of the following sentence:

A number will give the answer 6 when it has been doubled.

The intended interpretation was that "it" refers to "a number" (so that the required number is 3). The alternative interpretation is that "it" also could refer to "6" (so that the number is 12).

To me the sentence structure seems lacking for other reasons (how can a number "give an answer" at all), but I would appreciate your input on whether or not the second interpretation could be considered correct, as this is the way several students seem to have understood it.

• Personally, only the first interpretation makes any sense to me. I agree that it feels wrong to say that "a number will give the answer" - it's the sum, or the function that gives an answer. – Max Williams Sep 28 '17 at 8:11
• @MaxWilliams: About "giving the answer", this could be considered correct if you consider the calculation as a function. In that case, an input parameter "gives" (leads to) the output parameter. "In a doubling function, [inputting] 6 will return 12" – Flater Sep 28 '17 at 8:28
• 'When it has been doubled' defaults to referencing 'a number' here; the proposed alternative reading would always be conveyed differently. There used to be a warning on A-Level maths papers: 'Unnecessarily convoluted, complex or rambling answers will be marked down even if essentially correct.' The same principle applies to the interpretation and writing of English; pragmatics is as important as syntax. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 28 '17 at 8:54
• @Flater I see what you mean, but it's still not a wording I would choose. – Max Williams Sep 28 '17 at 9:49
• @MaxWilliams: I guess it depends on context. If you're working with functions every day, you start to use shorthand phrases. I use a variation ("[input] yields [output]") daily, and I've never had a colleague ask me for clarification on what I just said. – Flater Sep 28 '17 at 9:51