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List of linguistic example sentences

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



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 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", or 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").
  • 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. (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?" 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).
  • Syntactic ambiguity

    Demonstrations of ambiguity between alternative syntactic structures underlying a sentence.

  • We saw her duck.
  • One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.
  • 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
  • The horse raced past the barn fell.
  • The coach smiled at the player tossed the frisbee (by the opposing team).
  • While the man was hunting the deer ran through the forest.
  • Scope ambiguity and anaphora resolution

  • Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.
  • Embedding

  • The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped.
  • Order of adjectives

  • The big red balloon.
  • This adjectival order is an example of the "Royal Order of Adjectives".

    Ending sentence with preposition

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


  • 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

  • "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?'"
  • 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.
  • Neurolinguistics

    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.

  • 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.
  • Semantics and context

    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.
  • 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

    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
  • Ojibwe

  • Gdaa-naanaanaa, Aanaa, naa? meaning "We should fetch Ana, 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
  • Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis.
  • Mandarin Chinese

  • 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 four different tones) when read in Modern Standard Mandarin
  • Japanese

  • Although at first glance the single character sentence 子子子子子子子子子子子子 does not seem to make sense, when this sentence is read using the right readings of the kanji , it means "the young of cat, kitten, and the young of lion, cub". It is told in the work Ujishūi Monogatari that the Japanese poet Ono no Takamura used this reading to escape death.
  • Czech

  • 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.
  • Korean

  • 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?"
  • Turkish

  • In Turkish, the word "müdür" means school principal, director or manager; "mü" (also mi, mı and mu; depending on the preceding vowel) is a syllable that denotes a question, which is written together with the ending "dür" to add emphasis. For example:
  • "Müdür müdür müdür?" which means "Is the principal a principal?", "Is the director a director?", "Is the manager a manager?", "Is the principal a director?", "Is the manager a director?", "Is the director a manager?", "Is the principal a manager?", "Is the director a principal?", OR "Is the manager a principal?".
  • References

    List of linguistic example sentences Wikipedia

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