List of linguistic example sentences

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The following is a partial list of linguistic example sentences illustrating various linguistic phenomena.

Ambiguity[edit]

Different types of ambiguity which are possible in language.

Lexical ambiguity[edit]

Demonstrations of words which have multiple meanings dependent on context.

  • In port, the portly porter ported the port, through the port port. (At the dock, the fat mover moved the wine, through the left window)
  • Will, will Will will Will Will's will?[1]
  • 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[2] (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!)
  • A ship-shipping ship shipping shipping ships (A boat-delivering boat delivering delivery boats)
  • He jarred ajar a jar of Jar-Jar's jarred charred chard and char giardiniera.
  • That that exists exists in that that that that exists exists in.
  • Better betters better betters better better better better betters better.
  • 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 outshone to outshine others?" or several other ways.)
  • If police police police police, who police police police? Police police police police police police.[3] (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. Hyphenating the noun constructs makes this easier to follow. Therefore, "[The] police-police [, that the] police-police-police police [, themselves] police [the] police", which means that "the police-police, who are policed by the police-police-police, are themselves responsible for policing the regular police force". In these sentences, the word police is used both as a collective noun ("police force") and as a verb ("to police [someone or something]"). This clause is also a reduced relative clause, so the word that, which could appear between the second and third words of the sentence, is omitted.)
  • 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?"[4] This sentence is much easier to read because the writer placed commas between and and & and and and And, & and and and And & and And and and, & and And and and & and and and And, & and and and And & and And and and, & and And and and & and and and. (46 ands in a row).
  • Feet Feats Three feat. 3-feet feet feats. (Event title Feet Feats Three featuring 3 feet long feats of a foot nature.

Syntactic ambiguity[edit]

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.[5]
  • One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.[6]
  • 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.
  • "Now I see," said the blind carpenter as he 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.
  • Look at the dog with one eye.
  • (Upon arriving at a party) "Who's left?"
  • I'm leaving you in a car.

Syntactic ambiguity, incrementality, and local coherence[edit]

Demonstrations of how incremental and (at least partially) local syntactic parsing leads to infelicitous constructions and interpretations.

Scope ambiguity and anaphora resolution[edit]

  • Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.[9]
  • Somewhere in Britain, some woman has a child every thirty seconds.

Embedding[edit]

  • The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped.[10]

Word order[edit]

Order of adjectives[edit]

  • The big red balloon.

This adjectival order is an example of the "Royal Order of Adjectives" A related chart can be found at.[11] A Google search for "Royal Order of Adjectives" yields many sites that reference this concept but none indicate how this order developed.

Ending sentence with preposition[edit]

Some Prescriptive grammar prohibits "preposition stranding": ending sentences with prepositions.[12]

Avoidance[edit]

  • 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.)[13][14] 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".[15][16]

Compound use[edit]

  • "A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boy says, 'What did you bring that book that I don't want to be read to out of up for?'"[17]
  • What did you turn your socks from inside out to outside in for?

Parallels[edit]

Parallel between noun phrases and verb phrases with respect to argument structure
  • The enemy destroyed the city.
  • The enemy's destruction of the city.

Neurolinguistics[edit]

Sentences with unexpected endings.

  • She spread the bread with socks.[18]

Combinatorial complexity[edit]

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 news reader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.[19]

Semantics and context[edit]

Demonstrations of sentences where the semantic interpretation is bound to context or knowledge of the world.

  • The large ball crashed right through the table because it was made of Styrofoam: The "table" was made of "Styrofoam" but it changes to the "large ball" if we replace "Styrofoam" with "steel" without any other change in its syntactic parse.[20]
  • The bee landed on the flower because it had pollen: The pronoun "it" refers to the "flower" but changes to the "bee" if we replace "had" with "wanted".

Relevance Conditionals[edit]

Conditionals where the prejacent ("if" clause) is not strictly required for the consequent to be true.

  • There are biscuits on the table if you want some
  • If I may be honest, you're not looking good [21]

Non-English examples[edit]

Ojibwe[edit]

  • Gdaa-naanaanaa, Aanaa, naa? meaning "We should fetch Ana, shouldn't we?".[22]

Latin[edit]

  • 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[23][24]
  • Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis.

Mandarin Chinese[edit]

  • Various sentences using the syllables , , , , 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".[25]
  • Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den: poem of 92 characters, all with the sound shi (in four different tones) when read in Modern Standard Mandarin

Japanese[edit]

Czech[edit]

  • Jedli na hoře bez holí, meaning either "they ate elderberries on a mountain using a stick" or "they ate on a mountain without any sticks" or "they ate elderberry using a stick 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 separating words using spaces is also permitted, the total number of known possible meanings rises to 58.[26]

Korean[edit]

  • In Gyeongsang dialect, the repetition of the syllable ("ga") with the right intonation can form meaningful phrases. For example:
    • "가가 가가?" which means "Are they the one we talked about?"
    • "가가 가가가" which means "Since they took it away"
    • "가가 가가가?" which means "Are they the one with the surname Ga?"[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Han, Bianca-Oana (2015). "On Language Peculiarities: when language evolves that much that speakers find it strange" (PDF). Philologia (Târgu Mureș, Romania: Universitatea Petru Maior) (18): 140. ISSN 1582-9960. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 October 2014. Will, will Will will Will Will's will?
    Will (a person), will (future tense helping verb) Will (a second person) will (bequeath) [to] Will (a third person) Will's (the second person) will (a document)? (Someone asked Will 1 directly if Will 2 plans to bequeath his own will, the document, to Will 3.)
     
  2. ^ "Operator Jumble" (PDF). ACM-ICPC Live Archive. Baylor University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Gärtner, Hans-Martin (2002). Generalized Transformations and Beyond: Reflections on Minimalist Syntax. Studia Grammatica 46. Akademie Velag. p. 58. ISBN 978-3-05-003246-7. ISSN 0081-6469. 
  4. ^ Gardner, Martin (2006). Aha! A Two Volume Collection: Aha! Gotcha Aha! Insight. The Mathematica Association of America. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-88385-551-5. 
  5. ^ "Solutions: Semantics". School of Computer Science and Engineering. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales. 1 June 2010. Archived from the original on 19 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Fodor, Jerry; Lepore, Ernie (2004). "Out of Context". Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 78 (2): 83–84. doi:10.2307/3219726. ISSN 0065-972X. JSTOR 3219726. (registration required (help)). Groucho said, as everybody knows, 'I shot an elephant in my pajamas.' This sets up the infamous joke: 'How an elephant got into my pajamas I can't imagine. [Laughter].' What, exactly, happened here? We take the following to be untendentious as far as it goes: the conventions of English are in force, and they entail that there are two ways to read the set-up sentence. Either it expresses the thought (I, in my pajamas, shot an elephant) or it expresses the thought (I) (shot (an elephant in my pajamas)). 
  7. ^ Tabor, Whitney; Galantucci, Bruno; Richardson, Daniel (2004). "Effects of merely local syntactic coherence on sentence processing" (PDF). Journal of Memory and Language 50 (4): 355–370. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2004.01.001. ISSN 0749-596X. Archived from the original on 1 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Christianson, Kiel; Hollingworth, Andrew; Halliwell, John F.; Ferreira, Fernanda (2001). "Thematic Roles Assigned along the Garden Path Linger". Cognitive Psychology 42 (4): 368–407. doi:10.1006/cogp.2001.0752. ISSN 0010-0285. 
  9. ^ Barker, Ken (2 October 1999). "CSI 5386: Donkey Sentence Discussion". University of Ottawa School of Information Technology and Engineering. Archived from the original on 16 May 2007. 'Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it' . . . : there is some single thing Y in the universe such that for every X in the universe if X is a farmer and Y is a donkey and X owns Y, then X beats Y. So the problem with the donkey sentence is that the scope of the variable corresponding to the donkey must be contained within the antecedent of the implication to prevent requiring the unconditional existence of the donkey. But the scope of the donkey variable must contain the consequent of the implication to allow the anaphoric reference! 
  10. ^ Kempen, Gerard; Vosse, Theo (1989). "Incremental Syntactic Tree Formation in Human Sentence Processing: a Cognitive Architecture Based on Activation Decay and Simulated Annealing" (PDF). Connection Science 1 (3): 282. doi:10.1080/09540098908915642. ISSN 1360-0494. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 October 2015. The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped. 
  11. ^ "The Royal Order of Adjectives". www.pinterest.com. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 
  12. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Huddleston, Rodney (2012) [1st pub. 2002]. "Prepositions and preposition phrases § 4.1 Preposition stranding: What was she referring to?". In Huddleston, Rodney D.; Pullum, Geoffrey K. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. 5th printing. Cambridge University Press. p. 627. ISBN 0-521-43146-8. LCCN 2001025630. OCLC 46641801. OL 4984064W. The 'rule' was apparently created ex nihilo in 1672 by the essayist John Dryden, who took exception to Ben Jonson's phrase the bodies that those souls were frighted from (1611). Dryden was in effect suggesting that Jonson should have written the bodies from which those souls were frighted, but he offers no reason for preferring this to the original. 
  13. ^ "Famous Quotations and Stories". The Churchill Centre. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 'This is the kind of tedious [sometimes "pedantic"] nonsense up with which I will not put!' . . . Verdict: An invented phrase put in Churchill's mouth 
  14. ^ Zimmer, Ben (12 December 2004). "A misattribution no longer to be put up with". Language Log. Archived from the original on 7 September 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Huddleston, Rodney (2012) [1st pub. 2002]. "Prepositions and preposition phrases § 4.1 Preposition stranding: What was she referring to?". In Huddleston, Rodney D.; Pullum, Geoffrey K. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. 5th printing. Cambridge University Press. p. 629. ISBN 0-521-43146-8. LCCN 2001025630. OCLC 46641801. OL 4984064W. This example is based on a much-quoted joke attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, who is said to have annotated some clumsy evasion of stranding in a document with the remark: This is the sort of English up with which I will not put. Unfortunately, the joke fails because it depends on a mistaken grammatical analysis: in I will not put up with this sort of English the sequence up with this sort of English is not a constituent, up being a separate complement of the verb (in the traditional analysis it is an adverb). Churchill's example thus does not demonstrate the absurdity of using PP fronting instead of stranding: it merely illustrates the ungrammaticality resulting from fronting something which is not a constituent. 
  16. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K. (8 December 2004). "A Churchill story up with which I will no longer put". Language Log. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. 
  17. ^ White, Martha, ed. (2011). In the Words of E. B. White: Quotations from America's Most Companionable of Writers. Cornell University Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8014-6367-9. 
  18. ^ Kutas, Marta; Hillyard, Steven A. (1980). "Reading senseless sentences: brain potentials reflect semantic incongruity". Science 207 (4427): 203–205. doi:10.1126/science.7350657. PMID 7350657. 
  19. ^ Fry, Stephen (20 January 1989). "Series 1, Episode 2". A Bit of Fry & Laurie. BBC. Hold the news reader's nose squarely waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers. 
  20. ^ Etzioni, Oren (2014). "The battle for the future of data mining". Proceedings of the 20th ACM SIGKDD international conference on Knowledge discovery and data mining. (registration required (help)). The large ball crashed right through the table because it was made of Styrofoam. 
  21. ^ "Language Log". 
  22. ^ Valentine, J. Randolph (2001). "18.9.1.1. Yes/No (Polar) Question". Nishnaabemwin Reference Grammar (in English and Ojibwa). University of Toronto Press. p. 978. ISBN 978-0-8020-8389-0. LCCN 2002284190. OCLC 46625840. OL 3585700M. Gdaa-naanaanaa, Aanaa, naa? . . . 'We should fetch Anna, shouldn't we?' 
  23. ^ Collier, John Payne (1825). "Edward II". In Reed, Isaac; Gilchrist, Octavius. A Selection of Old Plays in Twelve Volumes II. London: Septimus Prowett. p. 393. LCCN 12002796. OCLC 2075486. Sir J. Harington has an Epigram (L. i. E. 83.) 'Of writing with double pointing,' which is thus introduced. 'It is said that King Edward, of Carnarvon, lying at Berkeley Castle, prisoner, a cardinal wrote to his keeper, Edwardum occidere noli, timere bonum est, which being read with the point at timere, it cost the king his life.' 
  24. ^ Addis, John, Junior (18 July 1868). "Adam of Orleton's Saying". Replies. Notes and Queries. 4. s4-II (29): 66. ISSN 0029-3970. ADDIS18071868. 
  25. ^ 隔壁小谁 (1 July 2010). "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" ("Mother is riding a horse, the horse is slow, mother scolds the horse")?]. Baidu (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 13 October 2015. 妈妈骑马马慢妈妈骂马 
  26. ^ "Registrační záznam kalambůru č. 71". Sbírka kalambůrů Jakuba Těšínského. 31 July 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  27. ^ "가가 가가" [Gaga Gaga]. 리그베다 위키 (in Korean). 26 February 2015. Archived from the original on 10 October 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 

External links[edit]