The Ambiguity of Words

  • Added:
    Jan 19, 2013
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In many cases, the ambiguity of a sentence is caused by the ambiguity of a word in it. English language has a lot of ambiguous words.

For example, the word should can be ambiguous.  The sentence which has two meanings because of this word is: ``The work should be completed by the end of the month``.  The first meaning would be that it is thought that this will happen. On the other hand, someone can think that the speaker is issuing instructions and saying: ``These are my requirements``. The word might is also ambiguous. One can paraphrase the two different meanings of the sentence: `` He might have realized that you were pulling his leg.`` The first meaning is that it is possible that he realized that you were pulling his leg. Another meaning is that he ought to have realized that you were pulling his leg.  The word to may have two or more possible meanings as well.

For instance, you can receive two different messages when you hear someone saying: ``She left me to get on with her work``. The meaning of the first message is that she left me so that she could get on with her work. The meaning of the second message is that she left me in a situation where I had to get on with her work. The word will can be also interpreted differently in the following sentence: ``Will you call on him and tell him?`` One might get the impression that someone wants to know whether you intend to do it.  Furthermore, one might think that this question is a polite request which means: ``Would you do this for me, please?``. 

Ambiguity gives rise to double messages.  Lexical ambiguity is the presence of two or more possible meanings within a single word.

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