Help me with examples of ambiguity
Sentences can be hard to read, confusing or ambiguous for many reasons. I am building a list of points to watch out for that I can share with students and users of Grammar to Go. Please send me your examples so that we can identify some words and constructions to watch out for.
I want to build a set of sentences that demonstrates the types of words and constructions that lead to lack of clarity. This is because I often need to think of an example of an unclear or ambiguous sentence to help a student to see what I mean. It is a very difficult thing to do on the spot, so I would like your help to build up a set of examples that I can call upon. I will publish them here with notes on why they are difficult to read.
Let me make my motivation clear. I am not naming and shaming for fun because we all make mistakes. Examples are likely to come from the press because it's what we all read, and I am well aware that journalists write under extreme time pressure. So am not saying: "oh look, even professional journalists can't write properly". I am also not looking for grammatical and typing errors - I would be swamped with submissions and it would be quite boring.
I am looking for sentences you have read more than once because the meaning was not clear to you. If you decide that the sentence is genuinely ambiguous, please send it to me. In other words, if you decide that there are alternative ways of reading the sentence and that your decision about what the writer meant is based more on your experience of the world than on the sequence of words.
Please copy your sentences and add them as comments to this blog, or if you find them online, send me a link.
Here is one to get you thinking - and I look forward to hearing from you.
In the Independent this morning, 27 July 09
How the Forces Finally learnt to take pride
It was even harder when she was posted recently to the multi-national Eufor offices in Sarajevo to work with personnel from other militaries, such as the Americans, who do not accept openly gay servicemen or women as well as less-liberal-thinking locals.
This is a 44 word sentence so it was heading for trouble anyway. My difficulty is with the last part, starting with "as well as". The implication of this sentence could be:
a) that the Americans are less tolerant of gay servicemen and women than even the less-liberal-thinking locals are; or
b) that the woman in question found it hard to work with American service personnel and also with locals.
My hunch is that the answer is (b). But if that is the case, the sentence is not well punctuated. If it is (a), the sentence is well punctuated but a bit confusing because "less-liberal-thinking" seems to go against the expected emphasis.