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Ambiguity

Different types of ambiguity which are possible in language.

How many thats?

How many thats can you have in a row?

If a sentence has two thats in it, you could say, “Delete this that, not that that.” (That’s two
in a row.) And, he could ask, “Is that that that that you want me to delete?” There’s four,
can any more make sense?

The following sentence contains 7 identical words in a row and still makes sense:

"It is true for all that that that that that that that refers to is not the same that that that that
refers to."

(= It is true for all that, that that "that" which that "that" refers to is not the same "that"
which that "that" refers to.)

It is true for all that that that that that that that
pronoun conjunction determiner noun relative pronoun determiner noun
(adjective) "that" which (adjective) "that"

refers to is not the same that that that that refers to.
noun relative pronoun determiner noun "that" which (adjective) "that"

A sentence with a similar pattern, which may help to unravel the above, is:

It is true, despite everything you say, that this word which this word refers to is not the
same word which this word refers to.

Or, if you insist on being really correct:

It is true, despite everything you say, that this word to which this word refers is not the
same word to which this word refers.
"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

It’s a grammatically correct sentence in American English, often presented as an example


of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic
constructs through lexical ambiguity. It has been discussed in literature in various forms
since 1967, when it appeared in Dmitri Borgmann's Beyond Language: Adventures in
Word and Thought.

The sentence employs three distinct meanings of the word buffalo:

• as a proper noun to refer to a specific place named Buffalo, the city of Buffalo, New
York being the most notable;
• as a verb (uncommon in regular usage) to buffalo, meaning "to bully, harass, or
intimidate" or "to baffle"; and
• as a noun to refer to the animal, bison (often called buffalo in North America). The
plural is also buffalo.

More easily decoded, though semantically equivalent, would be:


Buffalo from Buffalo that other buffalo from Buffalo bully [themselves] bully buffalo
from Buffalo.
"James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the
teacher"

is an English sentence used to demonstrate lexical ambiguity and the necessity of


punctuation, which serves as a substitute for the intonation, stress, and pauses found in
speech. In human information processing research, the sentence has been used to show
how readers depend on punctuation to give sentences meaning, especially in the context
of scanning across lines of text. The sentence is sometimes presented as a puzzle, where
the solver must add the punctuation.

It refers to two students, James and John, required by an English test to describe a man
who had suffered from a cold in the past. John writes "The man had a cold", which the
teacher marks incorrect, while James writes the correct "The man had had a cold". Since
James' answer was right, it had had a better effect on the teacher.

The sentence is much easier to understand with added punctuation and emphasis:

James, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on
the teacher.

In each of the five "had had" word pairs in the above sentence, the first of the pair is in the
past perfect form. The italicized instances denote emphasis of intonation, focusing on the
differences in the students' answers, then finally identifying the correct one.