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Questions tagged [ambiguity]

This tag is for questions about words or phrases that have multiple meanings and can thus be understood in different ways. If your question is about different words that can be easily mixed up or confused use the tag CONFUSABLES instead.

48
votes
4answers
104k views

How to answer a negative question without ambiguity?

I faced a problem to answer a negative question, for example When someone ask you: Don't you have any money? It's a yes/no question but how should one answer the question without ambiguity? When ...
14
votes
3answers
29k views

Use of “Or”, inclusive or exclusive?

My wife and I are playing a game where you roll dice and move so many spaces in a grid "vertically or horizontally". In the use of English it is very common to say, this or the other when it comes ...
52
votes
2answers
122k views

“All but” idiom has two meanings?

Here's two ways I've seen the "all, but" idiom used: "Close all tabs but this one" (Any modern application with a number of tabs might have this as an option.) It means "close all the tabs, but not ...
13
votes
2answers
60k views

Controversy over verb choice in “neither you nor I {is/am/are} in control”

I was watching the film A Game of Shadows starring Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law when this line came up, "...neither you nor I is in control..." (I can’t remember the exact words that ended the ...
35
votes
2answers
161k views

“X times as many as” or “X times more than”

Suppose John has 5 sweets. Is there any difference between the following two sentences? Jack has 3 times as many sweets as John. Jack has 3 times more sweets than John. I prefer the first ...
33
votes
6answers
207k views

What is the difference between “nothing but”, “anything but”, and “everything but”?

What is the difference between these phrases? When is it valid to use which? Should they be avoided as being ambiguous?
5
votes
2answers
974 views

Ambiguity in Negation: “John did not come because of the rain”

John did not come because of the rain. This sentence seems to allow the following two completely different interpretations. John did not come. And the reason was the rain. John came. But the reason ...
10
votes
8answers
102k views

Does “until [date]” mean “before that date”?

What does until mean in the following? You need to deliver this product within 2 days (until August 18, 2011) to meet your deadline and get paid. Does this mean that I have to deliver the ...
3
votes
4answers
4k views

“Everything is not…”

I keep hearing people say everything is not… which frustrating because it is ambiguous. It could mean either Nothing is… (for the set of all things, no thing is…) or Not everything is… (for ...
13
votes
4answers
6k views

How can I distinguish “can” & “can't” from pronunciation?

It's very difficult for me to separate them. I was just listening to some video and it said "Fat cells can’t reproduce themselves." What I thought I've heard is "... CAN reproduce ..." Frankly, that'...
38
votes
6answers
55k views

How should I address someone with a known name and unknown gender?

When communicating with foreign cultures, the gender of the addressed person is not always clear from the name. What would be a professional way to address someone in this situation. (Dear Mr or Ms ...
14
votes
4answers
2k views

How are pronouns resolved?

Are pronouns in English resolved syntactically or semantically? Do they always refer to the closest matching noun? A wikipedia article has these examples: We gave the bananas to the monkeys ...
1
vote
1answer
4k views

Is “in [some period]” different from “within [some period]”?

Q1: "I'll finish this job within 5 days" definitely means the job is expected to cost 5 days or less. However, does "I'll finish this job in 5 days" mean exactly the same? Q2: Can we say, "I'll ...
27
votes
7answers
217k views

How should “midnight on…” be interpreted?

From what I understand, the word "midnight" is usually interpreted incorrectly. Midnight is written as "12am" which would imply that it's in the morning. Therefore, it should be at the start of the ...
23
votes
4answers
82k views

“It's all downhill from here”—meaning and etymology

The phrase "it was all downhill from there" seems to have two, contradictory meanings. The first indicates that things have since gotten a lot worse. For example (from http://bleacherreport.com/...
1
vote
2answers
462 views

Is there a name for this ambiguity problem or for the construction that solves it?

I read a sentence, John has published research in academic journals of philosophy and law. The author meant John has published research in academic journals of philosophy and in academic journals ...
48
votes
5answers
145k views

Are there any words I can use to disambiguate “biweekly”?

We have two words for events occurring in periods of years - biannual meaning twice a year, and biennial meaning once every two years. However, my colleagues talk about having meetings biweekly. This ...
14
votes
9answers
22k views

Ambiguity of “quite”

The adverb "quite" has the following meanings according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary: 1: wholly, completely ("not quite finished") 2: to an extreme : positively "quite sure" —often ...
1
vote
8answers
127k views

Which one is correct? “A teacher of English” or “An English teacher”? [closed]

I want to know which is correct teacher of English or English teacher.
3
votes
1answer
2k views

Interpreting the meaning of 'but' as an implication for exclusion/inclusion

I often find it difficult to interpret the meaning of but in some of the sentences where it is used to imply exclusion/inclusion. For example: Drink everything you want but alcohol. Also, sometimes ...
2
votes
4answers
518 views

“Find ten apples and oranges” Do I find 10 or 20?

If I read the sentence Find ten apples and oranges. Do I need to find ten or twenty pieces of fruit?
18
votes
6answers
6k views

Etymology of “nick” in, in the nick of time?

We have the nick meaning prison, as in "he served time in the nick", then we have the verb to nick, meaning to steal; but if the police catch you red-handed, then "you've been nicked". And if you led ...
2
votes
5answers
872 views

“the same” and “that particular one”

Consider I'm driving the same car. It sounds like me and someone else share one and the same car. But I could mean that my car is just another copy of the same model of the car. How do I express ...
6
votes
4answers
2k views

Arguable (“susceptible to doubt”) vs arguable (“susceptible to being supported”)

According to dictionary.com, the adjective arguable has two definitions susceptible to debate, challenge, or doubt; questionable: Whether this is the best plan of action or not is arguable. ...
6
votes
10answers
20k views

Usage of “East Indian” to distinguish from “Native American”

I know someone who uses the term "East Indian" to refer to people from India, or whose ancestors are from India, lest they be misunderstood to mean Native American. This struck me as unusual and ...
10
votes
8answers
16k views

Is “Four times more” grammatically correct? And, if so, what precisely does it mean?

I have 10 beans. Jim has four times more. Is this a valid sentence? And, if so, does it mean Jim has 40 or 50 beans?
7
votes
3answers
166 views

Is a dark polka dot necktie dark?

In The Syntactic Phenomena of English, McCawley considers the phrase "a dark blue necktie", and concludes that "blue" in that phrase is simultaneously a noun and an adjective. It modifies the noun ...
0
votes
3answers
30k views

“Within” and “in” when referring to time

I know that both can mean "inside" but what I don't have clear is whether both mean the same when talking about time. For example: The party is in two days = The party is within two days ?? ...
28
votes
6answers
27k views

What is the difference between “archetype” and “prototype”?

I'm very confused by the difference between "archetype" and "prototype", and even more baffled when to use which. Can someone clarify?
14
votes
3answers
1k views

What is the name of the ambiguity in the phrase “I want to visit clubs with attractive women”?

I want to visit clubs with attractive women. This phrase can be interpreted in two ways: I want to visit clubs myself, but the clubs I visit should have attractive women. I want to take ...
5
votes
3answers
9k views

The meaning of: “Why don't you just beat it?”

I would like to know what does this phrase means: "Why don't you just beat it?" My dictionary says only that: beat it: get lost Can you beat it? : Do you get it?
9
votes
4answers
3k views

“Connotation” vs. “Definition”

There seems to be some ambiguity between the connotation and definition of a word / word group / phrase. The dictionary entry seems to be that a definition is more of a primary description of a word ...
3
votes
2answers
563 views

Antecedent Precedence?

Background: I was working on a project and was having a colleague of mine proof-read a piece of documentation. He said that one sentence was ambiguous because he couldn't determine what the antecedent ...
2
votes
2answers
2k views

Does 'which' refer to the noun immediately preceding it?

Is the 'which' in Proposition 25 suggests a better definition of m-reducibility than given in Definition 23, which is also the one typically given in texts ambiguous? It is a line from an article ...
2
votes
4answers
17k views

Difference between “college” and “university”

I have seen the words college and university sometimes mixed in the same article. But there are lots of sources where only one is used. I've looked up them in various dictionaries, but couldn't figure ...
1
vote
2answers
1k views

Ambiguous relative clause

In the following expression, whom does 'who' refer to? The friends of the participants or the participants themselves? "The friends of the participants who were told to order soft drinks" This was ...
68
votes
9answers
21k views

Why is the word “Holy” used before swear words?

People usually use the word "Holy" before "Shit", "Crap" or any other bad words to express their feelings, like surprise, anger, etc. Is there any reason why the word "Holy" is used with these bad ...
66
votes
14answers
13k views

How to avoid ambiguity in “I am renting an apartment in New York”?

Does the sentence: I am renting an apartment in New York. imply that I am the landlord or the tenant? How can I unequivocally communicate that I am the tenant (or the landlord)?
25
votes
3answers
4k views

When a single use of a word has more than one word-sense (or part of speech) in the same sentence

Consider the sentence: John used to work for the newspaper that you are reading." (source) Newspaper has several well-known senses. The two that occur here are the sense of the newspaper, as a ...
20
votes
8answers
120k views

What is the meaning of the expression “We can table this”?

This came up in an email discussion - we are arguing about the merits and demerits of a certain approach, and I mentioned what I thought was a drawback to a scheme. To that, my colleague replied : "...
0
votes
1answer
1k views

Use of 'Like' and 'Unlike' prepositions

I am confused about the usage of the words like and unlike in sentences. Like and unlike make me confused because I see them being used everywhere almost interchangeably, and to make matters worse I ...
4
votes
3answers
2k views

Is there any word with two consecutive monophthongs whose symbols could be combined to a diphthong? [closed]

For example, ɔ and ɪ in one word one after another. Note that I talking about a situation where the symbols could be combined as written l, not the sounds. IPA does not have explicit different written ...
3
votes
2answers
102 views

Succinct and understandable term when “turn up”/“turn down” is ambiguous [duplicate]

In particular, think of the home air conditioner or the power setting on the kitchen refrigerator: the intensity of effort is opposite to the numbering of the related quality. So "Turn up the air ...
2
votes
1answer
219 views

Ambiguity of “just” in a context

I know that there are similar questions, but I'd like to know what's the "preferred" meaning of "just" in a specific sentence in this context. I was watching a GTA V movie, called "Meltdown". In a ...
1
vote
1answer
1k views

What is 'less' about 'unless'?

[Etymonline:] unless (conj.) [:] mid-15c., earlier onlesse, from on lesse (than) "on a less condition" (than); see less. The first syllable originally on, but the negative connotation and the lack ...
1
vote
1answer
9k views

What does “as good as it gets” mean?

Is it meant as a compliment or is it more acceptance of a situation? For instance, having loved a partner who died and feeling that you could never feel that way about anyone again and then describing ...
1
vote
2answers
47 views

Does a ver­bal noun turn back into a verb when mod­ified by an ad­verb? [duplicate]

Here singing is a noun: I like singing. But what about here? I like singing loudly. Loudly is still an ad­verb, right? But singing is still be­hav­ing like a noun, right? So which is it, a noun ...
8
votes
3answers
24k views

Does “speak in a low voice” refer to volume/loudness or to pitch?

Does the low in Speak in a low voice! He said in a low voice. refer to the volume/loudness or to the pitch? Does it mean quiet, or low-frequency? EDIT: After understanding from your answers ...
7
votes
5answers
441 views

“Gadhafi forces retreat” - how do you understand that?

Our local newspaper had the headline today "Gadhafi forces retreat" and I read it with "retreat" as the verb instead of "forces" as the verb. I know it is a poorly written headline, but which way is ...
6
votes
1answer
203 views

Can you distinguish the permission to do something from the license, an official document?

According to the dictionary, licence/license refers to an official document which proves you are permitted to do something. What, then, is the word for the permission itself? I'm from Korea, and in ...