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Ambiguity & Garden Path SentencesIf a sentence is ambiguous, it can have more than one meaning. There are many types of ambiguity. For example, in the following sentence the word bank could mean the edge of a river, or a financial institution:
This is called lexical ambiguity because it is the result of one of the words having more than one possible meaning. This next sentence is syntactically ambiguous (the syntax, or grammar, can be understood in more than one way):
Is the box already on the table, and to be put in the kitchen? Or is the box to be put on the table which is in the kitchen? From the sentence alone we cannot tell.
Try reading the following sentences. They are called garden path sentences because they are easily misunderstood (they lead you down the garden path) even though they are all grammatical! Don't worry if some of these sentences seem like nonsense at first (you have been garden pathed); they will be explained below.
All of these sentences are grammatical. Did you understand them all? Unless you are a linguist who has studied syntax and garden path sentences, the answer is probably "no".
Here the sentences are clarified by adding some extra words:
Notice that there are two types of ambiguous sentence: either there is a local ambiguity (one that is cleared up once you have heard the whole sentence) or it is a global ambiguity (one that remains even after the entire sentence has been heard). Garden Path sentences normally have local ambiguity.
Perhaps you can come up with your own ambiguous grammatical sentences that trick the brain into getting confused. We'd be interested to hear your garden path suggestions; please send them to us.
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