List of linguistic example sentences
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The following is a partial list of linguistic example sentences illustrating various linguistic phenomena.
- 1 Interaction of syntax and semantics
- 2 Ambiguity
- 3 Word order
- 4 Parallels
- 5 Neurolinguistic examples
- 6 Combinatorial complexity
- 7 Non-English examples
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Interaction of syntax and semantics
Syntax and meaning can interact, such that although a sentence is syntactically valid, and all of its words are meaningful, the sentence as a whole is meaningless. Examples of this type of sentence include:
- Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. (Noam Chomsky)
- The gostak distims the doshes. (Andrew Ingraham.)
Different types of ambiguity which are possible in language.
Demonstrations of words which have multiple meanings dependent on context.
- Will Will will Will's will to Will? (Will Will [a person] will [bequeath] Will's [second person] will [a document] to Will [a third person]? Alternatively, "Will Will will Will's will?")
- Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana
- Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Buffaloes from Buffalo, NY, whom buffaloes from Buffalo bully, bully buffaloes from Buffalo.)
- Rose rose to put rose roes on her rows of roses. (Robert J. Baran) (Rose [a person] rose [stood] to put rose [pink-colored] roes [fish eggs as fertilizer] on her rows of roses [flower].)
- James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher (With punctuation: "James, while John had had 'had', had had 'had had'. 'Had had' had had a better effect on the teacher.")
- That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is (Grammatically corrected as: "That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is that it? It is.")
- If it is it, it is it. If it is, it is it, it is! (If an object is the object, it is the object. If it is the object, then it is the object, it is!
- Badger's badgers badgers Badger's badgers (Mr Badger's badgers (his animals) badgers (annoys) Mr Badger's badgers (his other animals)
- Ship shipping ship shipping shipping ships.
- That that exists exists in that that that that exists exists in.
- Can can can can can can can can can can. ("Examples of the can can dance that other examples of the same dance are able to outshine, or figuratively to put into the trashcan, are themselves able to outshine examples of the same dance." It could alternatively be interpreted as a question, "Is it possible for examples of the dance that have been outshined to outshine others?" or several other ways.)
- Police police police police police police police police (If the "police police" is what you might call the people who supervise, monitor, and maintain order amongst the regular police force, then who, in turn, supervises the police police? The answer: the police police police. Therefore, "Police police[, who the] police police police police[,] police [the] police," which means that the "police police, who the police police police supervise, are themselves responsible for supervising the regular police force. In these sentences, the word "police" is used both as a collective noun [i.e. "police force"] and a verb [i.e. "to police someone or something"].)
- In a similar vein, Martin Gardner offered the example: "Wouldn't the sentence 'I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign' have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?"
Demonstrations of ambiguity between alternative syntactic structures underlying a sentence.
- I saw the man with the binoculars.
- They are hunting dogs.
- Free whales.
- Police help dog bite victim.
- He saw that gas can explode.
- Turn right here...
- We saw her duck.
- In Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx (as Captain Rufus T. Spaulding) quipped: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know."
- Ship sails tomorrow.
- Book stays in London.
- Wanted: a nurse for a baby about twenty years old.
- The girl in the car that needed water is waiting.
- Did you ever hear the story about the blind carpenter who picked up his hammer and saw?
- Those prosecutors have been trying to lock him up for ten years.
- Flying planes can be dangerous.
- I once saw a deer riding my bicycle.
- Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.
- Look at the dog with one eye.
- In the Drake and Josh episode "The Wedding", Drake is dressed up and Audrey tells Drake, "Don't eat a hot dog wearing a tuxedo!" Drake responds, "This hot dog isn't wearing a tuxedo."
Syntactic ambiguity, incrementality, and Local Coherence
Demonstrations of how incremental and (at least partially) local syntactic parsing leads to infelicitous constructions and interpretations.
- Reduced relative clauses
- While the man was hunting the deer ran through the forest.
- The old man the boats.
- Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.
- Somewhere in Britain, some woman has a child every thirty seconds.
- The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped.
Order of adjectives
- The red big balloon.
Ending sentence with preposition
Prescriptive grammar has in the past prohibited "preposition stranding": ending sentences with prepositions (traditionally defined). This "rule" appears to have been invented in 1672 by John Dryden; for a long time thereafter it was uncritically recited. It had no basis in linguistic fact in 1672 and has none now.
- This is the sort of English up with which I will not put. (Attributed by Gowers to Winston Churchill. There is no convincing evidence that Churchill said this, and good reason to believe that he did not.) The sentence "does not demonstrate the absurdity of using [prepositional phrase] fronting instead of stranding; it merely illustrates the ungrammaticality resulting from fronting something that is not a constituent".
- Daddy trudges upstairs to Junior's bedroom to read him a bedtime story. Junior spots the book, scowls, and asks, "Daddy, what did you bring that book that I don't want to be read to out of up for?"
- What did you turn your socks from inside out to outside in for?
- Parallel between noun phrases and verb phrases with respect to argument structure
- The enemy destroyed the city.
- The enemy's destruction of the city.
Sentences with unexpected endings.
- She spread the bread with socks.
Demonstrations of sentences which are unlikely to have ever been said, although the combinatorial complexity of the linguistic system makes them possible.
- Colorless green ideas sleep furiously (Noam Chomsky) - example that is grammatically correct but based on semantic combinations that are contradictory and therefore would not normally occur.
- Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers. (Stephen Fry, in A Bit of Fry & Laurie, series 1, episode 2)
- Gdaa-naanaanaa, Aanaa, naa?, meaning "We should fetch Anna, shouldn't we?".
- King Edward II of England was killed, reportedly after Adam of Orleton, one of his gaolers, received a message, probably from Mortimer, reading "Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est". This can be read either as "Edwardum occidere nolite; timere bonum est" ("Do not kill Edward; it is good to be afraid [to do so]") or as "Edwardum occidere nolite timere; bonum est" ("Do not be afraid to kill Edward; [to do so] is good"). This ambiguous sentence has been much discussed by various writers, including John Harington  and contributors to Notes and Queries.
- Various sentences using the syllables mā, má, mǎ, mà, and ma are often used to illustrate the importance of tones to foreign learners. One example: Chinese: 妈妈骑马马慢妈妈骂马; pinyin: māma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ; literally: "Mother is riding a horse, the horse is slow, mother scolds the horse".
- Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den – poem of 92 characters, all with the sound shi (in 4 different tones) when read in Modern Standard Mandarin
- Jedli na hoře bez holí, meaning either "they ate elderberries on a mountain using a stick" or "they ate elderberry on a mountain without any sticks" or "they ate elderberry on a mountain to eat their sorrow away"; depending on the phrasing or a correct placement or punctuation, at least 7 meanings can be obtained. Replacing "na hoře" by "nahoře", one obtains 5 more meanings. If also separating words using spaces is permitted, the total number of known possible meanings rises up to an astonishing 58.
- Garden path sentence, a sentence that illustrates that humans process language one word at a time
- Gradient well-formedness
- Paraprosdokian, a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe the first part
- One syllable article, Chinese phonological ambiguity
- 3802 - Operator Jumble
- Hans-Martin Gärtner, Generalized Transformations and Beyond, p58, Akademie Verlag, 2002. Retrieved online 6 October 2008.
- Gardner, Martin. Aha! A Two Volume Collection: Aha! Gotcha Aha! Insight. The Mathematica Association of America. p. 141.
- Solutions to Semantics Problems. Archived from the original on 2003-08-07.
- Thematic Roles Along the Garden Path Linger
- CSI 5386 Donkey Sentence Discussion at the Wayback Machine (archived May 16, 2007)
- Kimball, John (1973). "Seven principles of surface structure parsing in natural language". Cognition 2: 15–47. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(72)90028-5.
- Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; ISBN 0-521-43146-8), p.627.
- Even the Churchill Centre describes this as "An invented phrase put in Churchill's mouth". "Quotations and Stories", the Churchill Centre. The origin of the anecdote is investigated by Benjamin G. Zimmer in "A misattribution no longer to be put up with", Language Log, 12 December 2004. Both accessed 27 December 2009.
- Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.629. For more detail on the fallaciousness of this example as a claimed demonstration of the silliness of a (silly) rule, see Pullum, "A Churchill story up with which I will no longer put".
- Pinker, Steven (1994). The language instinct: how the mind creates language. p. 89. ISBN 84-206-6732-3.
- Kutas, M; Hillyard, SA (1980). "Reading senseless sentences: brain potentials reflect semantic incongruity". Science 207 (4427): 203–205. doi:10.1126/science.7350657. PMID 7350657.
- Valentine, J.R. Nishnaabemwin Reference Grammar. University of Toronto Press. 2001.
- I.Reed et al: A Select Collection of Old Plays (vol 2), 1825
- Notes and Queries, July 18, 1868
- "老外学中文都要从"妈妈骑马马慢妈妈骂马"开始么 (Do all foreigners learning Chinese start with 'māma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ'?)". Baidu Tieba (Baidu forums). 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2010-09-27.
- "Registrační záznam kalambůru č. 71". Sbírka kalambůrů Jakuba Těšínského. 2010-07-31. Retrieved 2014-07-01.