they live in the forest

This is the place to post questions and discussions on usage and style. The members of the Wordwizard Clubhouse will also often be able to help you to formulate that difficult letter.
Post Reply

they live in the forest

Post by azz » Fri Jul 23, 2021 8:57 pm

a. I have found out something about bears. They live in the forest near our town.
(Some of them live in the forest near out town.)

b. Tom and Harry were talking about old books. They were in their father's library.

(Some old books were in their father's library.)

c. We need to learn more about rats. They live on the streets of our city.

(There are rats living on the streets of our city.)

Are (a), (b) and (c) grammatically correct and do the convey the right meaning?

Many thanks.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: they live in the forest

Post by trolley » Fri Jul 23, 2021 9:56 pm

I was pretty sure it was Tom and Harry in their father’s library...
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: they live in the forest

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jul 23, 2021 10:05 pm

Trolley is right.

It would be simple to clarify the intended meaning:

Tom and Harry were talking about the old books that were in their father's library.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: they live in the forest

Post by trolley » Fri Jul 23, 2021 11:06 pm

I'm not so sure clarity is the objective in these exercises.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: they live in the forest

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jul 24, 2021 12:45 am

I often wonder what is.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: they live in the forest

Post by azz » Sat Jul 24, 2021 2:18 am

Thank you all so much.

I have always had a bit of problem with sentences like 'Rats live on our street.' They could be construed as generic statements or statements about what is happening in our street.

Rats are mammals.
Rats run on four legs.
Rats eat meat.

I understand that context clarifies things, but still the structure throws me a bit. I think things aren't done in the same way in my mother tongue, although I get a headache when I go from English to my mother tongue and come back.

Now things become a little more complicated when instead of a noun, we have a pronoun. It seems to me that in theory all my examples work, but in practice they are pretty problematic. Everything seems grammatical, but the mind has a hard time figuring out what is going on, especially in the case of (b). "They" really does seem to refer to "Tom and Harry".

In any case, my apologies if my questions are irritating. I think I have a very 'mathematical' approach to English. I don't have that attitude towards my own language(s), because I just know what I am doing and don't need to analyze things or come up with strange examples.

Many thanks.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: they live in the forest

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jul 24, 2021 5:53 am

azz wrote: Sat Jul 24, 2021 2:18 amNow things become a little more complicated when instead of a noun, we have a pronoun. It seems to me that in theory all my examples work, but in practice they are pretty problematic. Everything seems grammatical, but the mind has a hard time figuring out what is going on
Figuring out what the intended referents of pronouns are certainly can be a problem. Take the scenario I have concocted to illustrate it:

"Harriet knew she was supposed to meet her mother-in-law off the London train at the local station (1). She was a person who prided herself on being punctual (2). She was due to be there at six, but with the various delays she had no idea if she would make the rendezvous at the appointed time (3)."

A person reading that will be unclear whether it is Harriet or her MIL who is being referenced in (2).

Same with (3).

Indeed, it is not even clear whether (2) and (3) refer to the same woman, and if not, whether (2) refers to Harriet and (3) to her MIL, or vice versa. Actually it is not even clear which woman each individual "she" in (3) is referencing. All interpretations are equally plausible.

I did not have to struggle much to come up with this. It's just a reminder of how easy it is to confuse one's readers with sloppily constructed descriptions (especially when the people being described are engaged in a similar activity), and how much care needs to be taken to avoid composing them.

As an extra twist, I've included an additional (unrelated) ambiguity: is the London train heading for London, or away from London?
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

ACCESS_END_OF_TOPIC
Post Reply