Poll: "Colorless green dreams sleep furiously." Noam Chomsky

"Colorless green dreams sleep furiously." Noam Chomsky


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This Poll:

  • Votes: 1,215
  • Comments: 45
  • Added: August 2003



If the person who voted 'meaningful' reads this, would they mind telling me what it means as I cannot work it out. ;-)


I dont know what Mr. Chomsky may have intended it to mean. I read it more as a poetic sentence. I understood it as "green dreams" meaning the desire for money. In all the statement says to me that Mr. Chomsky was making a statement about the desire for wealth in America, by those who dont know how to get it.

Stu Nickum

Look at each of the terms in the sentence. They are all contradictory. Colorless things cannot be green, dreams cannot simply be green, dreams themselves cannot sleep, and it is impossible to sleep in a furious manner. The point is that gramatical structures do not necessarily give language its meaning. A sentence can be gramatically correct (as this one is), and still be complete gibberish.


Andrew Marvell wrote of 'green thoughts in a green shade' in The Garden. If he could have 'green thoughts' couldn't someone have 'green dreams'? Especially an ecologist?

Kevin Maynard

'Meaningless' is a pretty categorical judgement. The human brain is programmed to extract meaning from even the most unpromising material. (Hence the popularity of John Ashbery.) The question could be rephrased more helpfully as 'Is this logical?' or 'Is this grammatical?'


Chomsky used it as an example of something that was grammatically correct but made no sense as a way of showing the limitations of conventional grammars. ;-)


Literally it appears meaningless, though when viewed as a poetic work, it does make sense.



"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."


Just a bit of CS Lewis to argue the poetic pint. ;-)

I think that any meaning in the sentence is purely semiotic - an understanding of shared cultural signifiers that impart meaning. Narratively, forget it. Grammatically, it's a perfectly functioning sentence.


"Jabberwocky", unfortunately, isn't nonsense - Lewis provided a glossary to the terms elsewhere in his writings (letters), which kind of ruined the poem for me. :(


you realize this is chomsky's example of how a gramatically correct sentence can have no meaning at all, right?


c.s. lewis? come now, he didn't write jabberwocky. surely you mean our dear friend the reverend dodgson.

I know some people have pointed this out, but...

Noam Chomsky is a profressor of linguistics and more particularly theoretical linguistics. This sentence was only made to show that it could be grammaticaly correct, yet , meaningless (as has already been said).


I use this sentence to teach word order in English (I'm an ESL teacher). My students are creating "magnetic poetry." Mr. Chomsky's nonsense line makes sense to them!


I think asking if this is meaningful/meaningless is entirely the wrong question to ask. The point of this example is to show that meaning is not limited to the word-level, but also created by the grammar. We are able to assess some kind of meaning from the sentence because it follows English rules of grammar, and we cannot help but try to parse it. If we were to rearrange the words in an entirely ungrammatical way, e.g. "sleep dreams furiously colorless green," it is quite difficult to extract a meaning, even a poetic or abstract one.



as others have said chomsky is a linguist...generative grammar and all that. meant to show that grammar alone doesn't impart meaning...there's the semantic aspect as well....it's not poetry...chomsky is nothing like a poet!


Its meaningless. Chomsky came up with this to show that a sentence can be grammatically correct but make no sense


grammatically we can say that this utterance is perfect(subject verb and adverb) but it has no meaning..Chomsky gave it as an example to show the ability of understanding things and distinguishing wether they're correct or incorrect so it's about competence and performence.

Ben XO

The fact that it is both arguably meaningless AND arguably meaningful demonstrates that adequately that meaning can be partial - and that's the whole point. The sentence's true purpose (utterly distinct from its meaning or lack of meaning) is to demonstrate how meaning can be assigned, and what words cannot do by themselves.

Of course, the sentence has the capacity to make perfect sense to everyone, if everyone substitutes different (specific) meanings for the noun 'dreams', the adjective 'colorless' and the adverb 'furiously'. For example, if I interpret 'dreams' to mean 'humans', 'colorless' to mean 'boring' and 'furiously' to mean 'peacefully', then I have a new language (that only I speak) in which that sentence makes sense.

But in either language, English or my invented one, nobody can ever argue that the sentence is grammatically incorrect.


Um...Lewis Carrol wrote Jabberwocky...it is part of Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There....more commonly recongized as pertaining to Alice in Wonderland. Also, the fact that this is grammatical gives it at least functional meaning. However, the semantics give it a poetic sense as well, showing freedom in the english language to even make unlogical concepts grammatical and poetic.


Stu Nickum, got it right in the third comment. It's a grammatically correct statement that was constructed to be meaningless to show that grammar is not the root of the meaningfulness of language. grammatically correct content doesn't infer any meaning whatsoever.


chomsky is tryin 2 make u pple get that even tho a given sentence is grammatically correct..it cud structurally wrong


This sentence is not intended to be poetry, but rather is from a linguist. Chomsky was trying to prove that a sentence can be grammatically correct but still make no sense. This sentence was used as an example to show how children learn language, and is not intended to have actual meaning to the sentence. The meaning, rather, is in what it proves about grammar making sense but words that fill in the grammar structure being completely wrong.


it could mean many things in various contexts, a nice tool for everyday use. or, only if you dont mind being bizarre


As always, context is all. If Chomsky's nonsense were translated into Spanish it could be plugged into Lorca's Verde, Verde, Verde poem where it would find a happy home.

Dr. Frank Kohnstein

If Noam Avram Chomsky said, it must have meaning...

Dr. F. Kohnstein

Chomsky Rules!


Would somebody tell me as to why Chomsky has given this example? In what context? Does he mean that the sentence is both grammatical and acceptable? What does he want to convey to the readers via this example? I shall be thankful if I am guided in this.

Sebastian Wendahl Abbas


Mr Chomsky has proven that a "nothing" can be structered correctly, in a grammatical sense, and force our individual minds to attempt to extract a "something" in a logical sense. This means that every comment listed on this page is absolutely correct. If you voted either way, you got the right answer. This could quite possibly be the most meaningful sentence ever written :).


This sentence is an example of good grammar with awful syntax. It's structured but filled with syntax that doesn't agree with itself. Or is it good structure and poor semantics


it's a semantic anomaly.


meaning, like beauty, is in the (mind's) eye of the beholder...


wonderful how you can make a sentence with intention to make no sense and ppl will simply add it to it saying it is symbolic and poetic

Mitchell Goodman

Meaning outshines Structure.


it doesnt need to mean really anything but it was created to prove you can make a gramatically correct sentence even if it doesnt make sense.




Wow that word is winning!!!!:)

Will Kelly

Of course it means SOMETHING or we would not be discussing it as there would be nothing to discuss.


it has to do with the psyberdelic psyberdelix experience!!!

Rowland Jones

It was intended to show that a sentence can be syntactically and grammatically correct-- adjectives, subject, verb adverb but at the same time be essentially nonsense. It was not meant to be poetic - it was an exercise in linguistics, and that is the only meaning it has . . which in effect means that this poll is pointless.

Samia Sayadi

Structure and semantics go hand in hand.Asentence can be grammatically correct but nonsensical.

Patrizia Rossi

it's a nonsense

Rodney Johnson

It is meaningful in that it is an example of a perfect grammatical structure that is meaningless.

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