Explain if and why the following sentence has ambiguity, and what is ambiguous about it?
"The seven days of exclusive food rejection therapy included the staff beating the patients with barbeque chicken legs."
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The ambiguity lies with the last prepositional phrase: "with barbecue chicken legs." According to the punctuation (the absent comma), this phrase is a prepositional modifier of the noun "patient." This creates patients who are holding barbecue chicken legs and receiving unwanted attention from the staff. An example of the explanation I just gave is the clearer sentence, "I'm dating the girl with the braided blond hair." Here, the prepositional phrase "with the braided blond hair" is a prepositional modifier of the noun "girl." The construction is the same as in the chicken leg prepositional phrase.
The sense of the sentence is that the ill-bred staff are using barbecued chicken legs to create an aversion in the patients who otherwise have no relation to the chicken legs. One way to correct the ambiguity is to convert the "with" phrase to a Means adverbial to answer the question How. The answer is given through the idiomatic expression "by means of ...." [by means of: With the use of; owing to: (American Heritage Dictionary)]. This creates an adverbial of Means to explain how, or by what means, the staff perpetrate brutality.
- "The seven days of exclusive food rejection therapy included the staff beating the patients by means of wielding barbecue chicken legs."
The ambiguity involves the chicken legs.
The sentence could mean that the chicken legs were used as weapons by the staff: The staff used the chicken legs to beat the patients.
The sentence could also mean that the chicken legs belonged to the patients: The staff only beat the patients who were eating the chicken legs.
Just seconding the information above.
Ambiguity is when a sentence, phrase or word can be viewed in multiple ways, due to poor writing skills or just by general mistake.
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