The following sentence is ambiguous. Provide two explanations which illustrate the different meanings of the sentence. "Please make sure you take the right turn at the intersection."

Expert Answers
sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The sentence is ambiguous because of the word "right." Right could refer to a direction of navigation, or it could refer to a correct choice.  

If somebody were to give you directions, and the intersections were confusing, the above sentence wouldn't necessarily tell you which direction to turn. I would hope that because the person is giving directions, "right" means a literal turn toward the right. In other words, don't go left.  

The ambiguity comes from the fact that the sentence might simply be telling you to make the correct choice at the intersection. If someone told you, "When you get to Broadway and 9th, take the correct path," whether that path is right, left, or straight is not indicated. It is assumed that the person knows the correct direction to navigate and doesn't need to be told in which direction to go. In my opinion, that's poor direction-giving. If I am giving somebody directions, I assume they don't know how to get somewhere. I will use "right" exclusively as a direction indicator. Occasionally, a person will repeat the directions back to me, and I am very careful with how I respond.

For example, the person might ask, "So, when I get to the corner of Ash and Lincoln, I go left?" If that is correct, I will say "correct." I will not say "right." If I say right, the person won't know if I am affirming them or correcting them.

chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key word here is the adjective “right.” Which one of its meanings is used in this instructional sentence?

If “right” is used to mean “correct,” then this instruction could be considered almost a warning. The upcoming road crossing is complex. Please be sure to make only the correct and proper turn at this juncture. The implication is that if you don’t do so, you will get lost. Or at the very least, you will have to turn around and approach the crossing in the other direction and figure out from that point which way the “correct” way lies.

If “right” is used as a directional term, then it refers to the opposite of “left.” As you approach this complex road crossing, put on your right turn signal (if you are driving a car), and turn onto the road that lies just to your right. Again, the implication is that you may get lost if you don’t make this turn.