## Subsection7.2.6Referential Ambiguity – The Definite Article

Pronouns, however, are not the only source of referential ambiguity.

The definite article “the” introduces a description of an object that is assumed (in the current context) to be unique. If it’s not, the resulting sentence may have multiple meanings. And, if there is no possible referent, the sentence will typically be meaningless. All this matters if we want to translate the sentence into a logical expression and then evaluate the truth value of that expression.

The purple balloon popped. No problem.

The green balloon popped. Which one?

The black balloon popped. Huh?

(As an aside, we’ll point out that we can also use “the” when the referent, while not unique, is unique enough for the current purpose. For example, we can say, “Cam went to the store.” There may be many stores around, but we say this when it doesn’t matter which one Cam went to.)

### ExercisesExercises

#### Exercise Group.

Before we can assign a truth value to an assertion, it must be clear what objects are being discussed. In the case of sentences that contain the definite article “the”, that will only be the case if there is exactly one reasonable referent for the noun phrase that “the” introduces.

In each of these examples, assume an arbitrary, reasonable context. Indicate the number of possible referents for the underlined noun phrase.

##### Part 1.

is the bluebonnet.

1. None.

2. Exactly one.

3. There could easily be more than one.

##### Part 2.

is 2.

1. None.

2. Exactly one.

3. There could easily be more than one.

##### Part 3.

has a great article about breakfast tacos.

1. None.

2. Exactly one.

3. There could easily be more than one.

### ExercisesExercises

#### Exercise Group.

It’s not possible to assign a truth value to an English sentence until it has been disambiguated. If two people agree to accept as a premise an English sentence that is ambiguous, they may find out later that the arrive at different conclusions (because they have, without realizing it, accepted different logical premises)

For each of the following sentences, indicate whether this could be a problem because there is not a unique referent of the underlined noun phrase:

##### a.

a) The square of every even number is even.

Not a problem
Solution.

Explanation: Not a problem. Every number has a unique square.

##### b.

b) The best actor on the planet is an American.

Problem

Solution.

Explanation: This one has a problem. There is not a universally agreed upon single referent for the title of best actor on the planet.

##### c.

The capital of the happiest country in the world is Canberra.