Garden Path Sentences – Part 1 “Food!”

Sometimes when editing someone else’s work I arrive at a sentence that catches me off guard. At first glance it seems like gibberish, or it appears to be so poorly constructed that I struggle to find the meaning. Then, sometimes, something almost magical happens and the writer’s intended meaning becomes crystal clear, and I realise I am working with a “garden path sentence”.

This type of sentence can lead you down the wrong path as you read from left to right by setting your brain up for an ending that never arrives. Even as a native English speaker, garden path sentences can be brutally hard to understand grammatically. At the same time they can be interesting and fun for English learners because they point out some of the oddities of English grammar. So for a break from rigorous grammar, we’ll take a look from time to time at some garden path sentences. Today’s theme is “eating”!  Here are the sentences (remember, they are all perfectly written):

Fat people eat accumulates.

When Fred eats food gets thrown.

Southern European people like Italians like dishes like pasta.

Were you led down the wrong path? Could you sort out the grammatical structures of the sentences? Here are more readable versions of the sentences:

(The) fat (that) people eat accumulates (in their bodies).

When Fred eats (his dinner) food gets thrown.

Southern European people, such as Italians, like dishes (meals) like pasta.


Check back for more fun garden path sentences in future posts, and have a look at the other grammar guides available on this website.

Image by Naotake Murayama used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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