A “garden path sentence” is one which begins in such a way that your first interpretation of it is likely to be incorrect. You are led up the garden path when you begin reading it, meaning you are deceived by the way it begins.
A common example is “The horse raced past the barn fell”.
When you begin reading this you are likely to understand the first few words as meaning The horse ran quickly past the barn. When you reach the end of the sentence the word “fell” doesn’t fit with that understanding, and you have to go back and reconsider it from the start, eventually reaching the meaning of The horse which was raced past the barn fell.
These sorts of ambiguities are often seen in newspaper headlines as these typically cut out the words which would clear up any confusion in favour of a short, snappy and attention-grabbing line.
Here are some further examples, and the possible ways they could be interpreted:
After Bill drank the water proved to be poisoned.
After Bill had taken a drink of the water…?
After Bill had taken a drink, there was proved to be poison in the water.
After Fred had visited his parents prepared to celebrate their anniversary.
After Fred had paid a visit to his parents…?
After Fred had been for a visit, his parents prepared to celebrate their anniversary.
American ships head to Gulf.
An American has posted a head to the Gulf…?
Ships belonging to America are travelling to the Gulf.
Because he always jogs a mile seems a short distance to him.
Since he always jogs for a mile…?
Since he always jogs, he finds that a mile seems a short distance.
British left waffles on Falkland Islands.
The British have left behind some waffles on the Falkland Islands…?
The left-wing political party in Britain is undecided over what to do about the Falkland Islands.
British push bottles up German rear.
Some British people have inserted bottles up the back ends of some German people…?!
A concerted effort from the British side has choked up the supply lines behind the German forces.
Drunk gets nine months in violin case.
A drunk has been sentenced to spend nine months inside a violin case…?
The drunk accused in a court case about a violin has been sentenced to nine months in prison.
Fat people eat accumulates.
Fat people consume…?
The fat which is eaten by people, accumulates.
Fossil yields surprise kin of crocodiles.
The yields from a fossil have surprised some relatives of crocodiles…?
The yields from a fossil have surprisingly been found to be relatives of crocodiles.
Grandmother of eight makes hole in one.
A grandmother of eight children has made a hole in one of them…?
A grandmother of eight has scored a hole in one while playing golf.
Headless corpse accused in court.
A headless corpse has been put on trial at court…?
The defendant accused in the headless corpse case is now in court.
Hospitals sued by 7 foot doctors.
Hospitals are being sued by 7-foot-tall doctors…?
Hospitals are being sued by seven doctors who specialise in care of feet.
I convinced her children are noisy.
I persuaded the children belonging to her…?
I persuaded her that children are noisy.
I told the girl the cat scratched Bill would help her.
I told the girl that the cat had scratched Bill…?
I told the girl, whom the cat had scratched, that Bill would help her.
Ike Turner beats Tina to death.
Ike Turner has caused the death of Tina by beating her…?
Ike Turner has died before Tina has.
Juvenile court to try shooting defendant.
The Juvenile court will attempt to shoot the defendant…?
The Juvenile court will examine the defendant in the shooting case.
Lung cancer in women mushrooms.
Lung cancer in female…?
There has been an increase of lung cancer in women.
Mary gave the child the dog bit a Band-Aid.
Mary gave a dog to the child…?
Mary gave a Band-Aid to the child whom the dog had bitten.
McDonald’s fries the Holy Grail for potato farmers.
McDonald’s has fried the religious object known as the Holy Grail, and given it to some potato farmers…?
Having their potatoes used in McDonald’s fries is considered the ultimate goal for potato farmers.
Milk drinkers turning to powder.
People who drink milk are turning into powder…?
People who drink milk are changing their preferences to use powder instead.
Miners refuse to work after death.
Miners refuse to work after they have passed away…?
After a death occurred, the remaining miners are refusing to work.
Red tape holds up new bridge.
A new bridge is being suspended using only tape, which happens to be red...?
The development of a new bridge is being impeded by bureaucratic procedures.
Shark attacks puzzle experts.
A shark has attacked some people who are experts in puzzles…?
Attacks by one or more sharks have puzzled experts.
Sisters reunited after 18 years at checkout counter.
Sisters were reunited after spending 18 years at a checkout counter…?
Sisters were reunited at a checkout counter after spending 18 years apart.
Squad helps dog bite victim.
The squad are helping the dog to bite its victim…?
The squad are helping the victim of a dog bite.
Stolen painting found by tree.
A tree found the stolen painting…?
The stolen painting was found near a tree.
The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.
The complicated houses…?
The housing complex contains both married and single soldiers and their families.
The cotton clothing is made of grows in Mississippi.
The clothing made of cotton…?
The cotton, which clothing is made of, grows in Mississippi.
The dog that I had really loved bones.
The dog which I had really loved…?
The dog which I had had, really loved bones.
The florist sent the flowers was pleased.
The florist who dispatched the flowers…?
The florist who was sent the flowers was pleased.
The girl told the story cried.
The girl who recounted the tale…?
The girl to whom the tale was told, cried.
The government plans to raise taxes were defeated.
The government is planning to raise taxes…?
The existing governmental plans to raise taxes have been defeated.
The man who hunts ducks out on weekends.
The man who goes hunting for ducks…?
The man who goes hunting, avoids attending on weekends.
The man who whistles tunes pianos.
The man who whistles music…?
The man who whistles, works as a piano tuner.
The old man the boat.
The elderly gentleman…?
The old people work on the boat.
The prime number few.
The number that is prime…?
The things which are prime are few in number.
The raft floated down the river sank.
The raft made its way down the river…?
The raft, which had been floated down the river, now sank.
The sour drink from the ocean.
The drink which tasted sour…?
The people who are sour, drink from the ocean.
Three missing after waves hit Maine located.
Three people are missing after waves hit Maine…?
The three people who were missing after waves hit Maine have now been located.
Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.
Time moves in the same way an arrow does, fruit moves in the same way… ?
Time moves in the same way an arrow does, the flies which live on fruit enjoy bananas.
Twelve on their way to cruise among dead.
Twelve people are heading out to begin wandering among the dead…?
Twelve people who had been on their way to a cruise, are found to be among the dead.
Until the police arrest the criminals control the street.
Until the police have put the criminals under arrest…?
Until the police have made an arrest, the criminals control the street.
We painted the wall with cracks.
We applied paint to the wall using…?
We painted the wall which had cracks in it.
When Fred eats food gets thrown.
When Fred consumes food…?
When Fred eats at all, food gets thrown.
When John called his old mother was happy.
When John gave his old mother a call…?
When John rang, it made his old mother happy.
Wherever John walks the dog chases him.
Wherever John takes the dog for a walk…?
Wherever John chooses to walk, he is chased by the dog.
While I was surfing the internet went down.
While I was using the internet…?
While I was on the beach surfing, the internet connection went down.
While the man was eating the pizza was still being reheated in the oven.
While the man was consuming the pizza…?
While the man was eating something, there was still pizza being reheated in the oven.
While Tom was washing the dishes fell on the floor.
While Tom was cleaning the dishes…?
While Tom was cleaning himself, the dishes fell on the floor.
Without her contributions would be impossible.
Without the contributions made by her…?
In her absence, it will be impossible for there to be contributions.