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Thread: Ambiguity

  1. #1
    Allen165 is offline Key Member
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    Default Ambiguity

    "Melanie, my sister, and I live in the same house."

    How many people live in the house? 2 or 3?

    Thanks.

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    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    It's ambiguous grammatically.

    However, your listener either knows Melanie and knows she is not your sister, or your listener doesn't know Melanie, in which case I would assume it's your sister. I would make this assumption because if the listener doesn't know Melanie, then Melanie needs an introduction as well.

    My college roommate Melanie, my sister, and I ....

    In real life, we interact and get clarification when it's important.

    You can avoid ambiguity in written language with a tiny rewrite.

    My sister Melanie and I live together.
    I live with my sister and Melanie.
    Melanie and my sister are both my roommates.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  3. #3
    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Quote Originally Posted by Jasmin165 View Post
    "Melanie, my sister, and I live in the same house."

    How many people live in the house? 2 or 3? I would say 3.

    Thanks.
    If only 2 people, you should write 'My sister Melanie and I live ......'

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    Allen165 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    It's ambiguous grammatically.

    However, your listener either knows Melanie and knows she is not your sister, or your listener doesn't know Melanie, in which case I would assume it's your sister. I would make this assumption because if the listener doesn't know Melanie, then Melanie needs an introduction as well.

    My college roommate Melanie, my sister, and I ....

    In real life, we interact and get clarification when it's important.

    You can avoid ambiguity in written language with a tiny rewrite.

    My sister Melanie and I live together.
    I live with my sister and Melanie.
    Melanie and my sister are both my roommates.
    Thank you for your reply.

    I have a couple of questions about two of the sentences you wrote.

    Does the sentence "My college roommate Melanie, my sister, and...." imply that you have more than one college roommate? If you had only one college roommate, wouldn't you have to set off "Melanie" with commas?

    "My sister Melanie and I live together." also suggests that you have more than one sister. Right?

    Thanks.

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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Not really. College was so long ago for me that if I said "My college roommate Claudia was so funny" I don't have to say "One of my college roommates, whose name was Claudia, was so funny. It's just not that important to the information you're conveying now. People don't need to have complete information about everything.

    Again, if it's very important that the person really understand the relationship you have with each of the these people:

    Melanie, who is one of my college roommates, and my sister and I live together. (You didn't give your sister's name. Is that important too?)

    Remember - real life doesn't work like a computer program. We talk to each other.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    Allen165 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Let's consider this example:

    "My brother, Marc, is a grammarian."

    "Marc," if I'm not mistaken, is an appositive, and appositives are always set off with commas.

    So why isn't "Melanie" set off with commas in the sentence "My sister Melanie and I live together"?

    Thanks.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Yes, if Mark is your only brother and Melanie is your only sister then set them off with commas because the name is an appositive.

    However, you are pursuing tiny nuances in meaning that in regular conversation are simply not that important to the point you want to make. This is one big difference in the things I post here compared to teachers -- I am focused almost exclusively on how to most easily convey your message. Anything that distracts from the purpose and message is less effective communication. And there are things that are simply not important to the story -- those become distractions instead of pushing the story along.

    Consider:
    A: My sister Melanie and I live together.
    B: Oh, how nice. It must be nice to have someone to come home to every night.
    A: Yes, though like most sisters, we do have our fights.
    B: I bet. My sister lives so far away that it would be nice to have her close enough to have a fight with.
    A: I'll share Melanie with you sometimes, if you want.

    Or this:

    A: My sister Melanie and I live together.
    B: Nice. Do you have other sisters?
    A: No, just her.
    B: Ah, okay. I thought maybe... never mind. Do you like living with her? I fight with my sister so much I think it would be a disaster!


    A: My sister Melanie and I live together.
    B: Do you have other sisters?
    A: No, just her.
    B: Oh, I notice you didn't use commas to set off her name. That must mean that you have more than one sister.
    A: Oh, no. She's my only sister.
    B: Oh, see, the way you wrote that, without the commas, I would have thought you had more than one sister. Like My sister Melanie and my other sister Veronica. Get it?
    A: Yeah, okay whatever. I guess you don't really care about the fact that we live together.
    B: No, no. That's nice. It's nice that you live with your only sister whose name is Melanie.




    What do you think is more likely? What do you think the purpose of the conversation is?
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  8. #8
    Allen165 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    Yes, if Mark is your only brother and Melanie is your only sister then set them off with commas because the name is an appositive.

    However, you are pursuing tiny nuances in meaning that in regular conversation are simply not that important to the point you want to make. This is one big difference in the things I post here compared to teachers -- I am focused almost exclusively on how to most easily convey your message. Anything that distracts from the purpose and message is less effective communication. And there are things that are simply not important to the story -- those become distractions instead of pushing the story along.

    Consider:
    A: My sister Melanie and I live together.
    B: Oh, how nice. It must be nice to have someone to come home to every night.
    A: Yes, though like most sisters, we do have our fights.
    B: I bet. My sister lives so far away that it would be nice to have her close enough to have a fight with.
    A: I'll share Melanie with you sometimes, if you want.

    Or this:

    A: My sister Melanie and I live together.
    B: Nice. Do you have other sisters?
    A: No, just her.
    B: Ah, okay. I thought maybe... never mind. Do you like living with her? I fight with my sister so much I think it would be a disaster!


    A: My sister Melanie and I live together.
    B: Do you have other sisters?
    A: No, just her.
    B: Oh, I notice you didn't use commas to set off her name. That must mean that you have more than one sister.
    A: Oh, no. She's my only sister.
    B: Oh, see, the way you wrote that, without the commas, I would have thought you had more than one sister. Like My sister Melanie and my other sister Veronica. Get it?
    A: Yeah, okay whatever. I guess you don't really care about the fact that we live together.
    B: No, no. That's nice. It's nice that you live with your only sister whose name is Melanie.




    What do you think is more likely? What do you think the purpose of the conversation is?
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a long reply!

    I never said I was asking a question relating to conversational English. My question focused on punctuation. In particular, I was wondering how other people would understand the sentence "Melanie, my sister, and I live together."

    That sentence is ambiguous (to me) because it's unclear whether Melanie is my sister or not. "My sister" could be seen as an appositive of "Melanie" or as another person. I don't think it's possible to disambiguate the sentence with punctuation; one has to re-write it. So if Melanie really is my sister, I have to write something like this:

    "I live with my sister, Melanie."

    I guess the sentence below is also an option, but it doesn't sound right to me.

    "Melanie, who's my sister, and I live together."

  9. #9
    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Quote Originally Posted by Jasmin165 View Post
    \
    and appositives are always set off with commas. I don't agree.

    Thanks.
    2006

  10. #10
    Allen165 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Ambiguity

    Quote Originally Posted by 2006 View Post
    2006
    Ok. Nonessential appositives are always set off with commas.

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