talked to him first

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talked to him first

Post by azz » Mon Feb 12, 2018 7:19 am

a. When I first talked to him, I thought he was a nice guy.

Can't this sentence have two meanings?
1. When I was talking to him, at first I thought he was a nice guy. (Presumably, after some time passed, my opinion changed during that very same conversation.)

2. The first time I talked to him, I thought he was a nice guy. (Presumably, my opinion of him changed after I talked to him on another occasion or on other occasions.)


b. I talked to him first.


Can't this sentence have two meanings?

3. I was the first person who talked to him.

4. He was the first person I talked to.


Many thanks.
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Re: talked to him first

Post by Phil White » Mon Feb 12, 2018 10:48 pm

Yes and yes.

The ambiguity of the second sentence does not arise in spoken English, as the meanings would be intonated differently.

As far as your first sentence is concerned, I think you are scraping the barrel for ambiguity here. Yes, it is ambiguous, but only to the extent that virtually any temporal relationship in language is, at the very least, imprecise.

"I lived in France for a while after I left Germany."

Can this mean
a) I lived in France immediately after I had lived in Germany
b) I lived in France at some time after I had lived in Germany, but I may have lived somewhere else in between the two

Yes, of course it is ambiguous. The intention is not to give a precise chronicle of events, but simply to apply some temporal order.

The same with your first sentence. If the speaker wished to explicitly resolve that ambiguity, it is perfectly possible to do so. If the speaker does not wish to resolve the ambiguity, then it is not important to the speaker.

There comes a point where any utterance that is given devoid of all context is potentially ambiguous.

"Can you pass me the ruler on the table?"

Can this mean
a) The speaker wants the listener to pass him/her the ruler that is habitually located on the table
b) The speaker wants the listener to pass him/her the ruler that happens to be located on the table at the moment
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: talked to him first

Post by trolley » Mon Feb 12, 2018 11:04 pm

...maybe he's asking to have the ruler slid to him...he wants the pass made while the ruler stays in contact with the table ;-)
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Re: talked to him first

Post by Phil White » Mon Feb 12, 2018 11:16 pm

Admirably thunk, good man.
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

End of topic.
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