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Quick Write 122611 “3 ways to parse Dave said his boss is stupid.”

I found an interesting topic while working on discussion questions that might appear on the Comps, the 5-hour graduation exam on January 7th last night, so I’d like to share it with you all. Here’s the thing: There are three different ways to parse (= resolve a sentence into its component parts), “Dave said his boss is stupid.” depending on how you divide the sentence into thought groups or meaningful chunks. What are your thoughts?

1) Dave said / (that) his boss is stupid. /
I guess this is how most people would think this sentence should mean and sound. It means “Dave said that Dave’s boss is stupid.” Oh, poor Dave. You’re so frustrated.

2) Dave said, / “His boss is stupid”. /
This interpretation is less likely to come to your mind, I guess, but some would successfully hit it. It means “Dave said that someone’s boss is stupid”. Someone has to be a guy because the possessive pronoun is “his.” Whoever the boss is, I’m sorry to know that you’re considered as incompetent. (Euphemism!)

3) “Dave”, / said his boss, / “is stupid”. /
If you’ve come to think of this variation, you’re so skilled and creative in parsing sentences. This version means “Dave’s or someone’s boss said Dave is stupid”. The possessive pronoun is “his” here, so it should be assumed that there are two possibilities of the referent of “his”; someone’s or Dave’s. So the sentence could actually have “four” different meanings with the someone’s versus Dave’s variation as in “Dave’s boss said that Dave is stupid” and “Someone’s boss said that Dave is stupid”. Oh, poor Dave. The boss’s evaluation of you is so low...

Did you enjoy the brain exercise? I hope you did.

(30 minutes / 291 words)

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Aya

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