List of linguistic example sentences  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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

Contents

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:

Ambiguity

Different types of ambiguity which are possible in language.

Lexical ambiguity

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 girl] 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!
  • 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.)
  • If Police police Police police, who police Police police? Police police Police police police police Police police!
  • 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?"

Syntactic ambiguity

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.

Syntactic ambiguity, incrementality, and Local Coherence

Demonstrations of how incremental syntactic parsing leads to infelicitous constructions and interpretations.

Scope ambiguity and anaphora resolution

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

Embedding

  • The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped.

Word order

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.

Avoidance

  • 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".

Compound use

  • 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?

Parallels

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

Neurolinguistic examples

N400

Sentences with unexpected endings.

  • She spread the bread with socks.

Combinatorial complexity

Demonstrations of sentences which are unlikely to have ever been said, although the combinatorial complexity of the linguistic system makes them possible.

Non-English examples

Anishinaabemowin/Ojibwe

  • Gdaa-naanaanaa, Aanaa, naa?, meaning "We should fetch Anna, shouldn't we?".

Latin

  • 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

Mandarin Chinese

Czech

  • 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 ises up to an astonishing 58.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "List of linguistic example sentences" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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