with the long, dark hair

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with the long, dark hair

Post by navi » Tue Oct 07, 2014 5:55 am

Which are correct:

1-He was talking to his girlfriend with the long, dark hair.
2-He was talking to his girlfriend with her long, dark hair.
3-He was talking to his girlfriend with long dark hair.

They are supposed to mean:
He was talking to his girlfriend who had long dark hair.

It seems to me that 1 and 2 work although that 'structure' is not that common.

Gratefully,
Navi.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Oct 07, 2014 6:01 am

They are all understandable, but they are also all subject to the perverse interpretation "He was talking to his girlfriend by means of an object which consisted of [her/the] long dark hair".
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Phil White » Tue Oct 07, 2014 8:22 pm

And 1 and 3 both suggest that he had multiple girlfriends. He was talking to the one with the long, dark hair.

Number 2 sounds very odd, and Erik's perverse interpretation was the first that crossed my perverse mind.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:39 am

The standard way to write this would be:
"He was talking to his girlfriend, who had long dark hair".
If her hair is described by only one attribute rather than two, another option is possible:
"He was talking to his long-haired girlfriend"
or
"He was talking to his dark-haired girlfriend".
But you cannot say:
"He was talking to his long, dark-haired girlfriend"
because of the possible confusion about whether 'long' describes the girlfriend or her hair.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Phil White » Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:54 am

Erik_Kowal wrote:If her hair is described by only one attribute rather than two, another option is possible:
"He was talking to his long-haired girlfriend"
or
"He was talking to his dark-haired girlfriend".
These both suffer from the ambiguity in respect of the number of girlfriends he has.

In a discourse context in which people are expected to have only one girlfriend, the suggestions are adequate. The syntax in itself, however is not unambiguous:
He was talking to his German aunt.
Which explains why he was speaking German. If he had been speaking to his Australian aunt, he would have been speaking some other language.
I am beginning to think that navi is writing a thesis on the adequacy of English syntax for distinguishing between defining and non-defining meaning, and the answer is the same as the last half-dozen times: context, context, context. Syntax and punctuation alone are rarely sufficient.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Wed Oct 08, 2014 2:10 pm

Yes. One can imagine Groucho going from his no-nonsense mode with

"He was talking to his girlfriend ..."

to his 'strange-interlude' eyebrows-raised talk-to-the-moon mode for

"with her lo-o-o-o-ong da-a-a-a-ark hai-ai-air".

Even Erik's standard version "He was talking to his girlfriend, who had long dark hair" is really forcing two disparate notions into a single sentence. "The man in the hospital bed suddenly noticed the stranger, whose hobbies included archaeology and keeping newts" is perhaps a clearer example of a sentence that is grammatically correct but better avoided.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Oct 09, 2014 4:46 am

Phil said:

Which explains why he was speaking German. If he had been speaking to his Australian aunt, he would have been speaking some other language.
.. gee Phil that's a bit harsh .. just some other language ?? .. we do give english a fair suck of the sav ..

WoZ grinning
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Oct 09, 2014 9:14 am

Phil White wrote:These both suffer from the ambiguity in respect of the number of girlfriends he has.
I think Navi ought to clarify just how many girlfriends this fellow actually possesses. It would make my life a lot simpler.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by Phil White » Thu Oct 09, 2014 10:07 am

navi originally wrote:
They are supposed to mean:
He was talking to his girlfriend who had long dark hair.
By the strict rules of punctuation that he often queries, this is a defining relative clause, so he has multiple girlfriends. But in a recent reply I pointed out that punctuation alone is unreliable. Without putting too fine a point on it and at the risk of repeating myself: IT'S ALL ABOUT CONTEXT.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by JerrySmile » Thu Oct 09, 2014 11:27 am

navi wrote: 1-He was talking to his girlfriend with the long, dark hair.
2-He was talking to his girlfriend with her long, dark hair.
3-He was talking to his girlfriend with long dark hair.
To explicitly assign features to a character, and eventually pile and pile on them, by using "with" is old-fashioned writing.
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Re: with the long, dark hair

Post by navi » Thu Oct 09, 2014 3:11 pm

Thank you all so very much for your kind replies.

All your comments were truly helpful.

I had to look up 'fair suck of the sav'. Sometimes one also finds things one did not come looking for. And that possibility makes the search all the more fun.

I can't believe I, of all people, missed the comma in 'his girlfriend, who had long, dark hair'. I meant to put in a comma. My apologies.

I am not writing a thesis, although I can see why you might suspect that I am. It would not necessarily be a bad thing, at least for me.

Gratefully and respectfully,
Navi.
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