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Context: This is a comprehension check question for a text which basically says that people are quick to forget information unless they study/review it several times. We have to answer whether the sentence below is true or false.

The sentence: People remember most of what they have studied for many days.

  1. People remember (for many days) most of what they have studied.
  2. People remember most of what they have studied (for many days).

My initial answer is FALSE, if the adverbial phrase modifies the verb "remember". But on second thought, can it also modify the verb "have studied"? If so, wouldn't the answer be TRUE?

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  • Can you tell me how we know it modifies "remember"? I know it makes more sense as a sentence, but I couldn't figure out why.
    – mizumiki17
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:27
  • Thank you! So basically, it makes more sense if it modifies the entire VP versus the noun phrase (what they have studied).
    – mizumiki17
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:31
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    The sentence is inherently ambiguous, but the 'People remember for many days most of what they have studied' reading is more likely. For the alternative sense, 'People remember most of what they've spent many days studying' would be more expected. However, tests should avoid ambiguity unless that's what they're designed to address. Jun 20 '20 at 11:37
  • @EdwinAshworth! Thank you so much for suggesting another way of stating the second sentence. It is indeed ambiguous.
    – mizumiki17
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:43
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It's ambiguous, without context, whether for many days is modifier in the clause headed by remember or studied.

The object of remember could be understood in either of the following ways:

People remember [most of what they have studied] for many days.

or

People remember [most of what they have studied for many days].

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  • Thank you! I was also thinking it was ambiguous. Which of the two is more proper or natural?
    – mizumiki17
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:40
  • As noted above, it would depend on the wider context in which this sentence appears.
    – DW256
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:46
  • Here's part of the text from which this comprehension check item refers to: Researchers have found that memory fades quickly within hours. After one or two days, people forget most of what they have studied, and after a month, they recall almost nothing. In other words, people cannot remember something by studying it just once. It is best to review it several times, for example, after one day, one week, and after one month.
    – mizumiki17
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:48
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    With the added context, the second of the two possibilities above would be the most likely interpretation.
    – DW256
    Jun 20 '20 at 12:32

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