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Grammar, Chocolate, & Ambiguity

Last night, after we put our daughter to sleep, my husband and I did what many parents do after their children are finally asleep.

We ate treats that we didn't want our daughter to eat. 

As we unwrapped our Ghirardelli premium chocolate bar, I noticed several recipes on the back of the wrapper. I might have explored the recipes further, but I was distracted by a confusing sentence.

For more tempting recipes, visit our website.

When you love language, you find a strange joy in little sentences like this. Here's why. 

That sentence is ambiguous. It can be interpreted in two ways.


Meaning #1

For recipes that are more tempting than the recipes on this wrapper, visit our website.

If you were to read this version out loud, you would emphasize the word tempting.

For more tempting recipes, visit our website.

Of course, this isn't the intended meaning, but this meaning did pass quickly through my mind. 

Here's how the sentence diagram of this interpretation looks. (Don't worry if you don't know how to diagram sentences. I'll point out the important part to you below.)

In this interpretation, more is an adverb modifying the adjective tempting.

Even if you don't know how to diagram, you can see that more is modifying tempting because it sits on a line that is connected to tempting

Let's look at the other meaning.


Meaning #2

For additional tempting recipes, visit our website. (Clearly, this is the intended meaning.)

If you were to read this version out loud, you would emphasize the word more

For more tempting recipes, visit our website.

This interpretation means that all of the recipes are tempting, and if you'd like to see even more of them, you should visit their website. 

In this interpretation, more is an adjective modifying the noun recipes.

You can see that it's modifying recipes because it sits on a line that is connected to the word recipes


Ambiguity

Studying grammar makes you more sensitive to how language is used.

Isn't analyzing ambiguity fun?

I know what Ghirardelli meant, and the wrapper's ambiguity is minor and inconsequential, but ambiguity in writing is fairly common and it can cause problems.

Ambiguities can also be quite amusing, and they often make funny headlines.

Here are five ambiguous newspaper headlines taken from Richard Lederer's book Anguished English. They'll give you a good laugh.

1. Hershey Bars Protest 

2. 2 Sisters Reunited After 18 Years in Checkout Counter 

3. American Ships Head to Libya 

4. Squads Help Dog Bite Victim

5. Complaints About NBA Referees Growing Ugly 

When you understand grammar and diagramming, you can better avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings.


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