• Have you come across any frilly dresses or blouses?

Does this mean [frilly dresses or frilly blouses], or does it mean [frilly dresses or blouses]?

I want to know whether an adjective so placed only applies to the noun that comes immediately after it, or to the noun that comes after "or", too. Or is there ambiguity here?

  • What makes you think your question can be answered? People will read things however they wish to, often contrary to your own wishes. – tchrist Jan 3 at 18:02
  • @tchrist Because I think there is a grammatical principle for this. "People will read things however they wish to, often contrary to your own wishes." so, what's the purpose of learning grammar? if people comprehend things the way they want and don't care about the "right" way. – Sam Jan 3 at 18:09
  • What do "grades" and "opinions" have to do with one another? Where's the contrast? – BillJ Jan 3 at 18:38
  • I don't see how you can have "good grades about other subjects", so the "good" can only modify "grades", thus "[good grades] or [opinions about other subjects]", where brackets surround the two coordinates. – BillJ Jan 3 at 18:49
  • Does this answer your question? Does an adjective apply to both nouns when joined with 'and'? The similar case of disjunctive usages is also addressed. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 3 at 19:43

I would suggest that where the adjective is capable of qualifying both of the nouns - wording of that kind can create ambiguity.

Of course if you say "I would like some hot custard or ice-cream on my pudding", it is clear that the adjective "hot" cannot possibly apply to "ice-cream".

But saying "I would like some hot custard or caramel sauce..." leaves the listener slightly unclear as to wheher the caramel sauce would neet to be hot. It is ambiguous.

So one needs to be aware of that possibility and apply more appropriate wording eg. "I would like some caramel sauce or hot custard" - where "hot" clearly does not apply to the caramel sauce. Or if you wanted your caramel sauce hot, you woud need to say "I would like custard or caramel sauce, in either case hot, please".

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    Thank you, so there is no concrete grammatical explanation for this, it just depends on the situation. now I think it's best to use the adjective again after "or" to remove any ambiguity. – Sam Jan 3 at 18:33
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    There is no rule, as such. Can you think of a European language where there would be? – WS2 Jan 3 at 19:17
  • I note that two venemous drive-by shooters have down-voted this answer. Please have the courtesy to say why. – WS2 Jan 3 at 20:26

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