Learn English – Two adjectives for two nouns


I saw this on a billboard recently

We have new and pre-owned cars and trucks

Clearly the intention is to modify "cars and trucks" with the two adjectives "used and preowned" and although the construction does make sense intuitively (and colloquially), I was wondering if there are any specific rules about this kind of "dual-and" construction or any other situation where you have multiple adjectives modifying a string of objects simultaneously.

Best Answer


The problem with this kind of double reference is that it might sometimes give rise to ambiguity. That is why the words "respective" and "respectively" are used when it is necessary to let readers know that the first verb refers only to the first noun, and the second only to the second.

While this example is not really ambiguous, several interpretations are theoretically possible:

We have used cars, and we have pre-owned trucks.

In this case, you would use "respectively".

We have used and pre-owned cars, and we have used and pre-owned trucks.

In this case you would not use "respectively". However, since some writers do not use that word where it is needed, the reader is not always sure how to interpret such a sentence if there is no "respectively". It could also be confused with the following interpretation:

We have used and pre-owned cars, and we have trucks.

My advice is to use this type of sentence only when there is no chance of confusion at all, when there is no chance that the reader would want to read back or speculate as to how it could be intended. Even if some thinking will clear up ambiguity, and even though it is then not explicitly "wrong", why make the reader exert himself if you could also write it such that it is clear immediately?

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