My understanding of と:

  • と performs listing

  • と indicates reciprocal action

  • The above two uses are indivisible from each other. That is to say that this particle is special in a sense that it always works in both senses. (I would like to assert a homologous relation to と to its Chinese counterpart 跟[gēn])


  1. AとBとCと会った

  2. AとBとCが会談した

For the cases above, is it:

  1. A with B with C

  2. A with (B and C)

  3. (A and B) with C

If all three are possible interpretations, how is the ambiguity resolved?

Can I resolve ambiguity by:

  1. Using a pause when speaking. E.g. "Aと(pause)BとCと会った" to mean "A with (B and C)"

  2. Using と again. E.g. "Aと[BとCと]会った" or "Aと[BとC]が会談した to mean "A with (B and C)"

1 Answer 1


Yes, they are ambiguous. No, there is no correct interpretation, so far as I can tell. English has the same sorts of problems. Consider:

A saw B as he walked down the boulevard with C.

Who was walking down the boulevard, and who was who walking with? In practice, no English speaker would wittingly use this sentence without an obvious implied interpretation. More likely, the speaker would avoid the ambiguity by using another grammatical construct.

The child saw Mr. Sanders as he walked down the boulevard with Mrs. Sanders.


The child saw Mr. and Mrs. Sanders walking together down the boulevard.

In the case of the sentence 「AとBとCが会談した」, a Japanese speaker would likely use:



... etcetera.

  • 2
    @Flaw The "as" is the primary fulcrum of ambiguity there. In any case, the goal of the English example was to show how, in any human language, there are unresolved ambiguities. You just need to work around them.
    – Jjed
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 21:09
  • It seems to me that the ambiguity doesn't always matter to understanding the sentence? That is, I would expect "A, B and C" to be the most natural translation most of the time, with any sub-grouping within the set being unspecified and irrelevant. Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 2:52

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