garden path sentence

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From the idiom lead someone down the garden path, because a reader forms an interpretation of the sentence which remains plausible until near the end of the sentence, at which point the reader realizes that their interpretation cannot be right (they have been led down a garden path) and they must try another interpretation.




The horse raced past the barn fell.
After Marie ate the cake turned out to be stale.
The government plans to raise taxes were defeated.

garden path sentence (plural garden path sentences)

  1. (linguistics) A sentence that is easily parsed incorrectly when first read, due to ambiguity of a word or words.
    • 1995, Reiko Mazuka; Kenji Itoh, “Can Japanese Speakers be Led down the Garden Path?”, in Reiko Mazuka and Noriko Nagai, editors, Japanese Sentence Processing, Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, →ISBN, pages 295–296:
      Whether a particular construction causes a garden-path effect depends on the specific grammar of the language. For example, the famous example of an English garden-path sentence in (1) ["The horse raced past the barn fell"] would not exist if the past tense form of the verb race were not identical to the reduced relative form, the former of which is the preferred reading for this sentence.
    • 2005, Michael W[illiam] Eysenck; Mark T. Keane, “Language Comprehension”, in Cognitive Psychology: A Student's Handbook, 5th edition, Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press, →ISBN, page 362, column 1:
      One of the functions of punctuation is to reduce any ambiguity, and readers are less confused by garden-path sentences that are punctuated than by those that are not [].
    • 2008, David W. Carroll, “Sentence Comprehension and Memory”, in Psychology of Language, 5th edition, Belmont, Calif.: Thomson Wadsworth, →ISBN, page 134:
      [I]n a garden path sentence, we interpret a sentence in a particular way only to find out near the end that we misinterpreted it. The subjective impression is that of being led down a garden path until discovering at the end that we took the wrong way and have to retrace our steps.
    • 2013, Montserrat Sanz; Itziar Laka; Michael K. Tanenhaus, “Sentence Comprehension before and after 1970: Topics, Debates, and Techniques”, in Montserrat Sanz, Itziar Laka, and Michael K. Tanenhaus, editors, Language Down the Garden Path: The Cognitive and Biological Basis for Linguistic Structures (Oxford Studies in Biolinguistics), Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 85:
      A garden path sentence contains a temporary ambiguity []. It becomes clear that something has gone wrong when the comprehender receives input that is incompatible with the past-tense analysis of the ambiguous form []. The parser then must abandon its initial parse and attempt to reanalyze the input.

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