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was not to

Posted: Mon Feb 22, 2021 8:41 am
by azz
a. Why he went to the restaurant was not to talk to John.

Is that sentence ambiguous?

I see two possible meanings.

1. He went to the restaurant, but it wasn't because he wanted to talk to John.

2. Why he went to the restaurant was to not talk to John. Why he went to the restaurant was in order not to talk to John.

Would you say that is correct?

Many thanks.

Re: was not to

Posted: Wed Feb 24, 2021 8:22 pm
by Bobinwales
a. Why he went to the restaurant was not to talk to John.

I'm afraid that that sentence isn't so much ambiguous, as nonsense.

I would have said something along the lines of, "He did go to the restaurant, but it wasn't to talk to John.

Re: was not to

Posted: Wed Feb 24, 2021 11:04 pm
by Erik_Kowal
I agree with Bob.

For sense 2), you could make the sentence sound less weird if you included the word "avoid":

He went to the restaurant to avoid talking to John.

You could make sense 1) work by inverting the clauses adding a contrasting assertion, e.g.:

It wasn't to avoid talking to John that he went to the restaurant, but to collect his cash.