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Buffalo buffalo buffalo: One-word sentences and how they work - Emma Bryce

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‘Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’ is a grammatically correct sentence. How? Emma Bryce explains how this and other one-word sentences illustrate some lexical ambiguities that can turn ordinary words and sentences into mazes that mess with our minds.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Emma Bryce
  • Animator Henry Chung, Noel Wong, Plamen Ananiev
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Even the phrase ‘lexical ambiguity’ sounds a little tricky, but this source will tell you more about its meaning, and about ambiguity in general.

If you want to examine the Buffalo buffalo buffalo sentence more closely, Grammar Girl has a good guide that explains how to break this sentence down into its different parts. Grammar Girl also explores how ambiguity works, and all the hilarious alternative meanings it can give to sentences.

Often, lexically ambiguous words are ‘homophones’, words that sound exactly the same as one another even though you can interpret them in totally different ways. You can browse a long list of homophones at this source, which may help you understand more about the clever disguises that words can wear.

Here are some fun examples of other odd sentences full of lexical ambiguity. See if you can work out what they mean! And finally, you can check out more TED Ed videos on grammar and language here.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Emma Bryce
  • Animator Henry Chung, Noel Wong, Plamen Ananiev
  • Narrator Addison Anderson