Writing for Business

Jun 1 2012   5:30PM GMT

Can you tell what this sentence means?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

What does the following sentence mean?
The CFO likes spreadsheets more than most people.

a. The CFO likes spreadsheets more than most people like spreadsheets.
b. The CFO likes spreadsheets more than she likes most people.

Answer: Can’t tell? That’s the correct answer: Can’t tell.


The sentence is an example of ambiguity — a lack of clarity created by multiple potential meanings. In this sentence, we know that something is implied, but we don’t know what. The CFO might be especially fond of spreadsheets or, on the other hand, she might be extremely fond of spreadsheets — and/or not very fond of people at all.

This post was inspired by Ben Zimmer’s (@bgzimmer) tweet:
Now on @LanguageLog: Linguists love ambiguity more than most people. https://bit.ly/Kr8DxB

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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