All you have to do to feel comfortable here is have a drink.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by navi, Mar 5, 2006.

  1. navi Banned

    All you have to do to feel comfortable here is have a drink.

    Isn't this sentence ambiguous:
    1-Just have a drink, any drink.
    2-There is only one kind of drink that will make you feel comfortable. (In which case, one would ask what kind of drink?)
  2. maxiogee Banned

    a = any.

    It's not really ambiguous. When someone invites you to have a drink, the choice is usually yours.
  3. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Yes, "a drink", if not qualified further, is "any drink". I think you'd need to say "a certain drink" if you wanted to say that the only way to feel comfortable was to have one specific drink. As such it's not ambiguous.
  4. navi Banned

    Thanks Maxiogee and Timpeac,
    I think the example I choose was -as usual- bad.
    If I said:
    a-All you have to do to stop this machine is push a button.
    would you imagine that any button would do?
    b-All you have to do to feel better is take a medicine.
    wouldn't you immediately imagine that I am talking about a specific medicine?

    Either 'the structure' itself is ambiguous and the context makes the meaning clear, or a and b are incorrect.
  5. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    OK, good points Navi (however note that medicine is uncountable - some medicine, so I think "a pill" would be better to make your point).

    No, you would not think any button would do nor that you could take any sort of medicine.

    However, again, there is no ambiguity. I suppose that the context makes it clear.

    Can you think of an example where it is equally likely that we could be talking about "a specific xxx" or "any xxx you like"?
  6. maxiogee Banned

    Context is everything.

    The machine may only have one button on it - an on/off button, but it is more likely that the operator doesn't have to remember a combination of buttons when they wish to stop it, just one button will do it.

    I don't think the medicine example would ever arise in the way that you phrase it. It might be "all you have to do to feel better is to take (an analgesic/a heartburn tablet/a paracetemol)." The type of medicine would be "a ~" or "an ~", not mentioning any particular brand name. If it is a prescription medicine then it might be "all you have to do to feel better is take the medicine."
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It might be helpful to emphasise the difference between buttons and drinks.

    If you need to stop this machine, all you have to do is push a button.
    It is clearly understood that there is one specific button on the machine, probably green, with STOP written on it, that will stop the machine.

    If you're thirsty, walk over to the bar and get yourself a drink.
    It is clearly understood that when you get to the bar you will choose for yourself what to have to drink.

    If you're thirsty, go into the kitchen and get yourself a drink.
    It never happens in my house, but elsewhere this could be limited to water.
  8. navi Banned

    Thanks Timpeac and Maxiogee,

    Actually, technically speaking, 'medicine' can be countable although few people use it that way. Interestingly enough Maxiogee has used it a countable noun (a prescription medicine). Check this out :

    There are cases where there might be 'real' ambiguity.

    A-All you have to do to turn on the machine is say a word loudly.
    B-All you have to do to turn on the machine is say one word loudly.
    Will any word do? Has one word been chosen? Or maybe you can choose the word and enter it in the machine's programme and then you'll be able to start the machine by saying that word?

    All you have to do is tell them a story.
    Any story or a specific one?

    All the child wants is that you buy him a toy.
    Any toy or a specific toy?

    -Before you start to work in the Gevorkian household, you have to learn to prepare a (two, three... ten) dish (dishes).
    -Are you kidding? I can prepare fifty different dishes.
    -Oh no. I m talking about a (two, three, ... ten) Armenian dishes.
  9. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    True, but it doesn't stop us assuming quite strongly that in the cases where one is more likely that it is this one that is meant. In your original sentence, I don't think for all this there is any ambiguity.

    As for uncountable medicine - I can certainly say that your sentence wouldn't be said round here. It is true that as soon as you describe the medicine it can be countable "a herbal medicine" "a prescription medicine" etc. "There was a medicine on the shelf" sounds strange to me, anyway.
  10. navi Banned

    Thanks Timpeac,
    To tell you the truth, I never use medicine in the plural and I don't think I have ever heard it used that way. I had checked in the dictionary before and I knew it could be countable, but I have to admit that before posting my question, I checked again and after I read your post I checked yet again because it just doesn't sound right to my ears. The reason I used it was that I didn't want to use the word 'drug'. I don't like that word and what's more I had started with 'drinks' so everybody would think that my fondness for ambiguity is the result of a double mental vision caused by substance-abuse!!
    As for context making things clear, sure, it will, in almost all cases. The definition of an ambiguous sentence is that it depends on its context both semantically and syntaxically (my definition). I have never had problems and have always pushed the right buttons, because I don't do drugs and I don't drink and drive.
  11. maxiogee Banned

    I have no problem with plural medicine.

    I take two anti-depressants daily.
    One in the morning and one at night.
    Because of that I see them as 'medicines'.
    Although they are both for the same illness they are separate things.

    I have also recently been on a course of sleeping tablets.
    Some nights I forgot to take one of the two medicines I needed to take at night.

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