We’ve collected our favorite sentences that look confusing and ridiculous but are technically accurate.
1. A ship-shipping ship ships shipping-ships.
The above example contains three similar versions of the same word — a noun, adjective, and verb. The adjective, in this case, is actually a participle, “shipping,” or a verb functioning as a modifier.
A ship-shipping (compound participial adjective) ship (noun) ships (verb) shipping-ships (compound participial noun).
Let’s substitute “boat” for the noun and “transports” for the verb.
The sentence then reads more clearly: A boat-shipping boat transports shipping-boats.
2. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
Like the last example, this one contains three different versions of the word “buffalo” — the animal (a noun), the city (adjunct noun/adjective), and the action of bullying (verb).
So the sentence really looks like this: Buffalo (the city) buffalo (the animal) [that] Buffalo (the city) buffalo (the animal) buffalo (verb) buffalo (verb) Buffalo (the city) buffalo (the animal).
The meaning becomes much more clear when you substitute bison for the noun version of buffalo and the verb version with a synonym —”bully.” We switched around the words and added a few for clarity, too.
Bison from the city of Buffalo [that] [other] bison from the city of Buffalo bully [also] bully bison from the city of Buffalo.
This lexical ambiguity can work for any word that has the same noun, noun adjunct (adjective), and verb form — like police.
[The fact] that “that” exists occurs in a situation which this “that” exists [also] occurs in.
Essentially, the two different versions of “that” in this sentence, exist in some situation simultaneously.