I considered a situation where two modifying clauses are joined by a て conjunction and wondered if such a thing was too ambiguous to be commonly used. (Brackets show what is being used as a modifying clause in each interpretation)

私が食べて{飲む}人を迎える = I will eat, and welcome the person who will drink

私が{食べて飲む}人を迎える = I will welcome the person who will eat and drink

{私が食べて飲む}人を迎える = I will welcome the person who I will eat and drink / (with)

  1. Are these interpretations correct?
  2. Can two clauses joined by a て conjunction be used as a whole modifying clause-unit?
  3. Would this always be technically ambiguous, with context and common sense being the only tools to disambiguate it?

1 Answer 1


I feel like the third case, without something like 一緒に, would be more like "whom I will eat and drink" (cannibalism), and that the second example is the natural interpretation of the sentence, because a comma/pause would definitely be inserted before 飲む, for the first one. ...But it'd still come across awkwardly, and I feel like 私が食べる、そして[...] would express that more clearly. But I may be wrong (not native speaker)

In general, though, you are absolutely correct about these sorts of constructions being potentially ambiguous, and the usual way to handle it when context doesn't make it clear, is to break it into separate clauses or sentences, I believe.

There's an opening sentence that I like, to a book entitled 暗夜行路 that I think illustrates this (though it could well be that it's also a reflection of a particular style of writing, more than an overall tendency in Japanese?):


Can you imagine trying to say that kind of thing in Japanese in a more direct manner, without breaking it up in a similar fashion?

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