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ambiguous?
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Member
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Posts: 2126
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Hi,

Please see the sentence below.

' The women’s husbands pick them up at around 9 pm, after their dance class.

Reading it, I know that the intended meaning is that the ladies are the one's attending the dance class and the husbands pick them up after their wives' dance class ends.

But, don't you think that the sentence allows for the interpretation that the husbands are the ones attending the dance class, and the picking up happens after these men finish attending their dance class?

Penny for your thoughts?

Thank you.
Gilbert
David, Co-moderator
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Location: Santa Cruz, California
Posts: 4719
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Hi, Gilbert —

I agree with you that "their" is ambiguous in that sentence. Strictly speaking, however, "their" seems to me to refer unambiguously to the women's husbands:
    The women's husbands pick them up at around 9 pm, after their dance class.

    They pick them up at around 9 pm, after their dance class.
    ("They" = "the women's husbands")
But I agree that the natural reading, your first reading, is also possible. Perhaps this is a case of gender trumping grammar. Dance class somehow seems like something for the wives.

Now, what if we changed "dance class" to "card game" or "football game"?
    The women’s husbands pick them up at around 9 pm, after their card game.

    The women's husbands pick them up at around 9 pm, after their football game.
The sentence with "card game" could go either way, I think; but the sentence with "football game" seems to be in intuitive alignment with its grammar, don't you think?
Member
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Posts: 2126
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Very good insight, David. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to see things that are denied the grammatically-challenged, like me.

You are spot on with that football game replacement... I never thought of that at all.

So, back to my original sentence...

What if we wanted it to mean that the women (spoilt, filthy rich housewives, perhaps...) attended the dance class and the men (hen-pecked, doting husbands) did the picking up... How should the sentence be worded then, to avoid ambiguity.

Appreciate your thoughts, David.

Thank you.
Gilbert

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Gilbert,
Member
Location: Egypt
Posts: 2729
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Hi, Gilbert.

Maybe the husbands aren't hen-pecked, but just loving, caring husbands. Or maybe they went to that football game while their wives were in dance class!

How about rearranging the sentence?

After the wives' dance class, their husbands picked them up.

Or something along that line.


Okaasan, Co-Moderator
(A native-speaking American with a Japanese nickname, living in Egypt)
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I think you would have to have a clue from the context.

You have 'the women,' so we must know something about the women already. Probably you have mentioned that they will be in a dance class.

If it is the men who are going to be picked up, a previous sentence might be, 'The men's rap Class runs from 8 to 9. The wives pick their husbands up at 9 p.m. when their class is over. '
Member
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Posts: 2126
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quote:
' The women’s husbands pick them up at around 9 pm, after their dance class.

Hi Rachel,

Actually, there is no context. The sentence shown above is an authentic quote from an exercise on using apostrophes to show possession, that I found in a book and this particular sentence sort of jumped out at me and screamed, 'I'm ambiguous! I'm ambiguous!').

I don't know what the writer's intended meaning is. I'm just guessing that he/she wanted to say that the husbands pick up the women (their wives) after these women finish their dance class at 9 pm.

We'll never know, I guess...

Thank you, too, Okaasan, for your suggestion to overcome the ambiguity, i.e.,

"After the wives' dance class, their husbands picked them up."

Gilbert
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