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How do I avoid ambiguity in the use of "and"?

For example, the phrase:

"demonstrative pronoun and adjective"

could mean both pronoun and adjective are demonstrative, or it could mean only demonstrative is for pronoun.

Is there a way to write this where the ambiguity is avoided?

  • 2
    Just reorder until you get what you want. "adjective and demonstrative pronoun" – Xanne Apr 6 '18 at 19:17
  • Thanks, but in the original sentence what is the meaning? that both are demonstrative? – kevin parra Apr 6 '18 at 19:31
  • It's ambiguous. It could be either. There's no rule that's going to resolve this; and keep in mind your reader/listener won't know the rule, or whether or not you know the rule. Context may be a clue: are there demonstrative adjectives? Consider: He had a fast car and a house; versus he had a fast car and motorcycle. – Xanne Apr 6 '18 at 19:40
  • In first case, car is fast. But in second case? both or only the car? – kevin parra Apr 6 '18 at 19:57
  • Why do you write "... in the original sentence what is the meaning? that both are demonstrative?" after saying " 'demonstrative pronoun and adjective' could mean both pronoun and adjective are demonstrative, or it could mean [that] 'demonstrative' [only modifies] 'pronoun' "? Your own statement is ambiguous: 'the only accepted meaning could be either ...' or 'neither meaning is impossible'. English strings are often ambiguous. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 6 '18 at 19:58
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You're correct that "adjective noun_1 and noun_2" on its own is ambiguous.

One approach to eliminate ambiguity when the adjective applies to both nouns is to distribute it:

adjective noun_1 and adjective noun_2

Some approaches to eliminate ambiguity when the adjective doesn't apply to both nouns are to add an article:

a(n)/the adjective noun_1 and a(n)/the noun_2

or to numbers the nouns:

(1) adjective noun_1 and (2) noun_2

or to place them on different lines:

adjective noun_1; and

noun_2

or (if possible) to reorder the list:

noun_2 and adjective noun_1

  • Thanks, but in this case: a(n)/the adjective noun_1 and a(n)/the noun_2 For example: A red car and a bicycle. It means that there is a red car and there is a bicycle or it means that there is a red car and there is a red bicycle? – kevin parra Apr 6 '18 at 21:19
  • "A red car and a bicycle" means that there is a bicycle and that there is a red car. (In other words, it does not imply that the bicycle is red.) – Chemomechanics Apr 7 '18 at 3:19

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