Amphiboly and Amphibology

Amphiboly or Amphibology is a form of syntactic ambiguity. That is to say, it describes a linguistic situation in which a sentence may be interpreted in more than one way due to an ambiguous sentence structure.

“John saw the man on the mountain with a telescope.”
“Flying planes can be dangerous.”

The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose.Henry VI (1.4.30), by William Shakespeare

Owing to the alteration of the natural order of words for metrical reasons, it is not uncommon to find amphiboly in poetic literature. This sentence could either be taken to mean that Henry will depose the duke, or that the duke will depose Henry.

“Thief gets nine months in violin case.”
“Prostitutes appeal to pope.”

I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.Lola by Ray Davies

This sentence could mean “Lola and I are both glad I’m a man”, or “I’m glad Lola and I are both men”, or even “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also glad to be a man”. Ray Davies deliberately wrote this ambiguity into the song Lola, referring to a cross-dresser.

“British left waffles on Falkland Islands.”
“Juvenile court will try shooting accused.”

Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis. — often attributed to the Oracle at Dodona

This Latin phrase could mean “you will go, you will return, never in war will you perish”; however, the other possibility is the exact opposite in meaning “you will go, you will never return, in (the) war you will perish”.

“Red tape holds up new bridge.”
“Sex education delayed, teachers request training.”


Every language has its own gap-filler words. These words are essentially meaningless but are used to aid the smoothness of the conversation. These useless words are also known as vocalized pauses. In English, these are usually ‘ah’, ‘well’ or ‘you know’.

In North America, especially among young people in the US, it is common to use the word ‘like’ as a particle. This use of the word ‘like’ became popular with the rise of Valley speak, which was a stereotypical manner of speaking that originated in Southern California in the 1970s. Valley speak was characterised by phrases like being, I don’t know, like, totally hooked on using the word ‘like’.

So, what exactly is wrong with using ‘like’ as a particle?

Firstly, when quoting someone, we use verbs to express the action we want to describe: yelled, whispered, answered, exclaimed, insisted, et cetera.

  • Incorrect: “He was like, ‘Where are you going?’ and she was like, ‘None of your business!'”
  • Correct: “He asked, ‘Where are you going?’ and she yelled, ‘None of your business!”

Secondly, do not use ‘like’ to approximate. When you are giving a quantity that you are not sure of, you might use the word ‘like’ to indicate that you are guessing or approximating. In this case, it can easily be replaced by the words: about, approximately, roughly, et cetera.

  • Incorrect: “She’s, like, five feet tall.”
  • Correct: “She’s about five feet tall.”

Thirdly, do not use ‘like’ before adjectives and adverbs. You might also find yourself using other gap-fillers such as ‘so’ or ‘really’.

  • Incorrect: “She’s, like, really irritated.”
  • Correct: “She’s irritated.”


In morphology and syntax, a clitic or cliticum is a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase. It is pronounced like an affix, but works at the phrase level. It never receives a

Clitics may belong to any grammatical category, though they are commonly pronouns, determiners, or adpositions.

Note that orthography is not a good guide for identifying clitics: clitics may be written as independent words, bound affixes, or separated by special characters. For instance an apostrophe.

A proclitic appears before its host.

English: an apple

French: Je t’aime. – I youlove. = I love you

Ancient Greek: ἄνθρωποςthe person

An enclitic appears after its host.

Latin: Senatus Populusque Romanus – “Senate people-and Roman” = The Senate and Roman people

Ancient Greek: ánthrōpoí (te) theoíte – “people (and) gods and” = (both) men and gods

A mesoclitic appears between the stem of the host and other affixes.

Portuguese: Ela leváloia. – She take-itCOND. = She would take it.

The endoclitic splits apart the root and is inserted between the two pieces. Endoclitics defy the Lexical Integrity Hypothesis (Lexicalist Hypothesis) and so were long claimed to be impossible, but evidence from the Udi language suggests that they do exist.Endoclitics are also found in languages like Pashto and are reported to exist in Degema.

On a completely different note; in cryptic language-comedy the term has been used to refer to a medical specialist in the branch of gynaecology.

On Syntax

‘In a language like English not much can be said with a single word. If language is to express complex thoughts and ideas, it has to have a way to combine words into sentences.’

– O’Grady W., Archibald J., Aronoff M., Rees-Miller J. 2010. Contemporary Linguistics An Introduction Boston/New York, United States: Bedford/St. Martin’s (2010) p. 155


In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing sentences in natural languages.

In addition to referring to the discipline, the term syntax is also used to refer directly to the rules and principles that govern the sentence structure of any individual language, as in ‘the syntax of Modern Dutch’.

Modern research in syntax attempts to describe languages in terms of such rules. Many professionals in this discipline attempt to find general rules that apply to all natural languages. The term syntax is also sometimes used to refer to the rules governing the behaviour of mathematical systems, such as logic, artificial formal languages, and computer programming languages.