What are some interesting facts about the English language? by Anojan Thevaraj
Answer by Anojan Thevaraj:
"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo"
The above line is a grammatically correct sentence in American English, used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs.
Quoting from Wikipedia:
The sentence is unpunctuated and uses three different readings of the word "buffalo". In order of their first use, these are:
- a. the city of Buffalo, New York, United States, which is used as a noun adjunct in the sentence and is followed by the animal; (Note the capital letter 'B' in front of this word and small 'b' in other words.)
- n. the noun buffalo, an animal, in the plural (equivalent to "buffaloes" or "buffalos"), in order to avoid articles;
- v. the verb "buffalo" meaning to bully, confuse, deceive, or intimidate.
Marking each "buffalo" with its use as shown above gives:
Buffalo(a) buffalo(n) Buffalo(a) buffalo(n) buffalo(v) buffalo(v) Buffalo(a) buffalo(n).
The sentence uses a restrictive clause, so there are no commas, nor is there the word "which," as in, "Buffalo buffalo, which Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo." This clause is also a reduced relative clause, so the word that, which could appear between the second and third words of the sentence, is omitted.
So, the actual interpretation of the line would sound like :
"The buffalo from Buffalo who are buffaloed by buffalo from Buffalo, buffalo (verb) other buffalo from Buffalo."
For a better understanding, let's use the word 'bison' in place of the noun for the animal 'buffalo', and 'bully' in place of the verb "buffalo', and keep 'Buffalo' as the city. Now it reads like :
Buffalo bison, whom other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison.
Another example for highlighting the importance of punctuation in English language :
"James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher"
This again, is grammatically correct in English language, but can be understood only if used with punctuation.
The story behind the sentence :
The sentence refers to two students, James and John, who are required by an English test to describe a man who, in the past, had suffered from a cold. John writes "The man had a cold" which the teacher marks as being incorrect, while James writes the correct "The man had had a cold." Since James' answer was right, it had had a better effect on the teacher.
Now, see the magic the punctuation makes on that sentence :
James, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.