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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Adverbs and Ambiguity

Difficulty: 0

I want to give an example of how adverbs

can cause ambiguity in a sentence that

is how they can make it so that you

can't tell which of the two meanings

that the sentence might mean is the one

that's intended so let's look at this

sentence here what what one does

primarily determines who one is now if

you look at that you see that it could

actually mean two things

and I will try to explain what those two

things are but with using this this pie

chart here which is supposed to show how

you might spend your time so you have

spent your time playing Halo six

exercising with Indian clubs tourism

lunch that's the part of your day or

your time that's a devote to lunch sleep

and here the the biggest thing is is

playing whist so if this is and there's

some other things here too so if this is

how you spend your time well and we look

at this sentence and we say that

primarily the adverb in question

modifies does then what we're saying is

the thing that one does the most the

thing that one principally does or

primarily does that would be play whist

that's the thing that one does primarily

the one thing that one primarily does is

to play whist if that's how we construe

the sentence then the sentence is saying

that playing whist for this person

determines who that person is so the

thing that one does the most determines

who one is that's one thing that this

sentence could mean that whist playing

in this person's case totally determines

who wanted

and nothing else does the thing the one

thing that one does the most is the

thing that determines who one is so for

this person what he is is determined

entirely by this piece of the pie chart

okay that's one way of construing it

that's the way that you get if primarily

is modifying does but this is actually

ambiguous because primarily could be

modifying determines and what would that

mean well now the thing that we're

concerned about the thing that we're

we're looking at is not what one does

primarily not this piece of the chart

but the whole thing what one does period

so now what it's saying if primarily

modifies determines what it's saying is

that many things determine or possibly

meant more than one thing it would

appear determines who one is only one of

those things is named and and the rest

are unnamed in this sentence what it

says it primarily modifies determined is

the totality of what you do is the thing

that mainly determines who you are but

there are other things that also

determine who you are that I'm not

mentioning in this sentence so you get a

quite a different meaning from from the

sentence if primarily is is modifying

determines so this is an example of how

so the sentence is not very good because

you can't tell what it means does it

mean that the one thing that you do the

most is the thing that determines who

you are and that by the way is an

unambiguous sentence that's how we would

correct this the one thing that you do

the most is the thing that entirely


who you are that's one reading of the

sentence and the other is that the

totality of what you do is the thing

that primarily determines who you are

that's the other unambiguous way of or

another unambiguous way of rephrasing

this sentence but this sentence as it

stands because you can't tell what

primarily is modifying whether it's

modifying does or whether it's modifying

determines makes this sentence

completely ambiguous and therefore not

very good

The Description of Adverbs and Ambiguity