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頭を抱えるわたしとフランの前で、ギルがルッツに向かって吠えた。

Are both characters doing the action of 頭を抱える (わたし and フラン), or is it just わたし? I've been told that it's ambiguous / based on context. Does an action like this normally modify both nouns connected by と or is just the first.

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  • Technically it's ambiguous, but in this case it's usually safe to assume it's 頭を抱える[わたしとフラン]. Of course, it's unless there's a special context like Fran being petrified.
    – naruto
    Jan 15 at 3:51

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This is an example of syntactic ambiguity, and is in no way limited to Japanese. There is no general rule here unfortunately - you have to infer based on context. In the same way that 頭を抱えるわたしとフラン could be either

[頭を抱える[わたしとフラン]]

[頭を抱える[わたし]]とフラン

English sentences like The bear rushed toward the terrified cat and dog can be parsed as either of

[terrified [cat and dog]]

[terrified [cat]] and dog

Sometimes it's ambiguous even with context, although excluding bad writing, if it's ambiguous it often doesn't matter (I.E. either interpretation would be fine).

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