Garden Path Sentences

Illusory sentences that lead you down the “garden path”.

A Garden Path Sentence is a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a manner as to confuse the reader on some aspect of the sentence. “Garden path” refers to the saying “to be led down [or up] the garden path”, meaning to be deceived, tricked, or seduced. These sentences create momentary ambiguity and when read, the sentences can be perceived as grammatically incorrect or wrong due to the ambiguity.


  • The old man the boat. (This one is particularly infamous.)
  • The car raced up the street flipped.
  • He painted the wall with cracks.
  • The girl told the story cried.

Let’s make these more understandable:

  • The old (people) man (as in: to staff) the boat.
  • The car (that was) raced up the street flipped.
  • He painted the wall (that had) cracks.
  • The girl (who was) told the story cried.

The first thing one may notice when comparing these, is that the Garden Path Sentences above use ambiguous grammar and wording. For instance, in, “The old man the boat,” when we see the word the, followed by an adjective + noun, old man, we expect that the meaning refers to a singular old man because of the way we read most sentences starting with a determiner – adjective – noun pattern. That is to say, we expect the to be the article, which is a word used to define a noun, the noun being old man. However, ‘man’ here is a verb, thus leading to the confusion, as the sentence is actually structured as determiner – noun – verb.

We can also look at, “The car raced up the street flipped,” in a similar light because again, it goes against the grain of what we usually encounter. In this instance, raced is a verb that could be interpreted as being in the simple past form at first, but when flipped is encountered, producing a doubling up on past tense verbs, the reader must look again at the sentence to determine that car is the object of a subordinate clause wherein raced is the past participle, not the verb.  This again has to do with how we usually read sentences, this time being in the pattern of agent – action – object. “The car raced up the street flipped” is structured as object – descriptor – action

Some other examples are:

  • The cotton clothing is made of grows in the south.
  • The man who whistles tunes piano.
  • The dog that I had really loved bones.


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