Is the following structure correct?

Can a can can a can can a can?

As in:

Can a tin can put another tin can (which can put a tin can in a tin can), in a tin can

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    I fail to parse it the suggested way, because the which can is replaced with can, and that just doesn't work. It would work if the which can were replaced with canning. Can a can can a can canning a can. (And that we could even extend further still. Can a can canning a can can a can canning a can canning a can.) – RegDwigнt Feb 27 at 10:35
  • Any suggestions about where I can read up on the rules governing this behavior? i.e what part of grammar describes them? – Vis Viva Feb 27 at 11:39
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    It’s just normal grammar, albeit applied to buffalo words. It couldn’t be otherwise, because then it wouldn’t be English (in which case English Language & Usage isn’t the right forum for this question). – Lawrence Feb 27 at 12:35

No, it requires a comma in order to separate the tag question:

See also What is the meaning of this sentence: "He can can a can"?

Can a can can a can, can a can?

Is a tin able to enclose another tin, [tag question =] is it possible that a tin can do that?

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  • I guess the idea is to compose a sentence that can go on forever, (like: buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo ...) So its not a separate question in the end, rather something that can be appended infinite amount of times. So if I rephrase my question: Is it possible to interpret can[v] a can[n] which cans[v] a can[n] which cans[v] a can[n] ... as the following: can[v] a can[n] can[v] a can[n] can[v] a can[n] ... I guess what you meant in your answer is that the former form cannot be reduced to the latter. Is that right? – Vis Viva Feb 27 at 11:36
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    To avoid confusion, I gave rough synonyms, where needed, for the meanings of "can". I gave a clarification by rewording the "can can, etc. version." A can is a metal container = a tin, A can can = [noun1 + noun2] = a can for containing other cans. Thus we could have "a can(n.) can(n.) can(n.)" = a can for containing other cans where the final can is also designed for containing cans of cans, etc. The progression is theoretically infinite but common sense militates against further "cans". – Greybeard Feb 27 at 12:42
  • Awesome. thanks again! – Vis Viva Feb 27 at 12:56

No. "Can a can can a can?" would be grammatically correct, but not the rest. You would need to rephrase it as "Can a can can a can that is canning a can?" if you wanted to keep using the word "can." I wouldn't advise using it unless it's part of a joke or some absurdity that's explained in the text. Even tongue twisters should be able to be worked out by the reader, and while it's possible to work this out, no one will ever be sure of the meaning unless it's explained.

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