In the above headline from Welt Online most would interpret the sentence as meaning the woman was wearing a headscarf, not that the man hit her with a headscarf. In other words, the prepositional phrase attaches to the woman, not the man.

Conversely, most will interpret:

  • Mann schlägt Frau mit Fleischklopfer - Source

as meaning the man used a meat mallet to hit the woman. Here the prepositional phrase attaches to the man, not the woman.

This linguistic feature is called attachment ambiguity in English. For example, see this article on Language Log.

So, finally, to my question. Google Translate gives Bindungsunklarheit as the German equivalent, but a search on the word results in only two, irrelevant hits. What is the German term for this linguistic phenomenon?

1 Answer 1


The general linguistic German term should be

Ambiguität (Mehrdeutigkeit von Wörtern oder Sätzen)

and in your special case: Skopusambiguität (Bereichsmehrdeutigkeit)

Here are some examples.

  • 3
    More specifically: "strukturelle Ambiguität", since the ambiguity is in the sentence's structure rather than in the meaning of a single word.
    – elena
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 9:34

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