"Mary ate a salad with spinach from Califonia for lunch on Tuesday."
"with spinach" can attach to "salad" or "ate"
"from California" can attach to "spinach", "salad", or "ate".
"for lunch" can attach to "California", "spinach", "salad", or "ate"
and "on Tuesday" can attach to "lunch", "California", "spinach", "salad" or "ate".
(Crossovers are not allowed, so you cannot both attach "on Tuesday" to "spinach" and attach "for lunch" to salad. Nonetheless there are 42 possible different parse trees.)`
"Mary ate a salad with spinach from Califonia for lunch on Tuesday and
"Wednesday" can be conjoined with salad, spinach, California, lunch, or Tuesday.
Noun group structure English allows long series of nouns to be strung together using the incredibly ambiguous rule NG -> NG NG. E.g. "New York University Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship program projects coordinator Susan Reid". Even taking "New York" "Martin Luther King Jr." and "Susan Reid" to be effectively single elements, this is 8 elements in a row, and has 429 possible parses.
For a while, I was collecting these as an assignment from students; I saved some of the best in Examples of Compound Nouns
"John and Mary are married." (To each other? or separately?) Compare "John and Mary got engaged last month. Now, John and Mary are married." vs. "Which of the men at this party are single? John and Jim are married; the rest are all available."
"John kissed his wife, and so did Sam". (Sam kissed John's wife or his own?)
The relation of the meaning of a compound noun to its component can be vary wildly. See Compound Nouns for examples.
"Margaret invited Susan for a visit, and she gave her a good lunch." (she = Margaret; her = Susan)
"Margaret invited Susan for a visit, but she told her she had to go to work" (she = Susan; her = Margaret.)
"On the train to Boston, George chatted with another passenger. The man turned out to be a professional hockey player." (The man = another passenger).
"Bill told Amy that he had decided to spend a year in Italy to study art."
"That would be his life's work." (That = art)
"After he had done that, he would come back and marry her." (That = spending a year in Italy)
"That was the upshot of his thinking the previous night" (That = deciding)
"That started a four-hour fight." (That = telling Amy)
In many cases, there is no explicit antecedent.
"I went to the hospital, and they told me to go home and rest." (They = the hospital staff.)
"The price of tomatoes in Des Moines has gone through the roof" (= increased greatly) Metaphor.
If you are a fan of the justices who fought throughout the Rehnquist years to pull the Supreme Court to the right, Alito is a home run --- a strong and consistent conservative with the skill to craft opinions that make radical results appear inevitable and the ability to build trusting professional relationships across ideological lines.
Metaphors: "fought", "pull to the right", "home run", "craft", "build", "across ... lines". (Probably "home run" was the only conscious use of a metaphor.)
Lexical ambiguities: "fan", "strong", "consistent", arguably "conservative", "opinions", "results", "inevitable", "professional". (The line between metaphor and lexical ambiguity is very unclear.)
Syntactic ambiguities: Does "who fought ..." attach to "fan" or "justices"? Does "to the right" attach to "Court", "pull", "years", "fought", "justices" or "fan"? Is "and the ability" conjoined to "opinions" or "the skill" or "conservative"? Does "across ideological lines" attach to "relationships" or "build"? (The last is an example of the phenomenon, not at all rare, of an ambiguity that makes no actual difference; the meaning of either reading is the same.)
Anaphoric ambiguity: Who are the implicit subject and object of "trusting"?
Semantic ambiguity: "the skill ... the ability": Do these denote unique ontological entities? If not, what do they denote?
The hardest part is to find the logical structure, which is, I would argue, "Since Alito is a strong and consistent conservative ... therefore if you are a fan ... then your opinion should be that Alito is a home run." Notice that "your opinion should be" is omitted in the sentence; the linguistic practice of deleting elements and leaving them implicit is known as ellipsis. Notice also that though syntactically "home run" and "strong and consistent conservative" are in apposition, logically they are entirely separate. The author is presenting it as fact that Alito is a strong and consistent conservative with the skill etc. but that Alito is a "home run" is not a fact, it is the presumed opinion of the hypothetical "you".
The juiciest prize is to become the face of a luxury brand such as Dior or Burberry. To have any chance, a model must first have magazine shoots under her designer belt. This fact allows fashion magazines to pay peanuts, even for a cover-shoot.
"The beauty business", The Economist, Feb. 11, 2012.
Lexical ambiguity: Every word except "Dior" and "Burberry". Almost half of the words are used with a meaning that is not their most frequent.
Syntactic ambiguity. Where does "for a cover shoot" attach: peanuts, pay, magazines, or allows?
Anaphoric: "chance" of what?
"This fact": Which fact?
Textual structure: How does [the fact that a model must first have magazine shoots under her designer belt] allow [fashion magazines to pay peanuts, even for a cover-shoot]?
E.g. "The bat ate its dinner." The subject of "ate" is generally animate. Therefore "bat" means "flying mammal" not "wooden club."
"The sick bat lay on the ground." The adjective "sick" generally modifies animate objects. Hence "bat" = flying mammal.
"The broken bat lay on the ground." The adjective "broken" generally modifies inanimate objects. Hence "bat" is a wooden club.
"The clock is fast." vs "The horse is fast." vs. "The clothes are fast." vs.
"The slopes are fast." vs. "The knot is fast."
"fast" meaning "showing a time later than correct." applies only to a time-piece.
"fast" meaning "speedy" applies only to a mobile object.
"fast" meaning "trendy" applies only to an object of conspicuous display..
"fast" meaning "inducing speedy movement" applies only to a context of movement.
"fast" meaning "secure" applies only to a fastening.
"The horse ran up the hill. It was very steep." vs. "It soon got tired."
"Steep" applies to surfaces, hence "it" = hill.
"Tired" applies to animate objects; hence "it" = horse.
"I went to the hospital on 13th street" vs. "on Wednesday"