Grammar 101: I Learned to Hide

Even though my infant daughter probably doesn’t understand much (if any) of what I’m saying, I read her a bedtime story (or three) every night. It’s really more about looking at the pictures and listening to the sound of my voice. We’ve gone through a lot of books and she definitely has some favorites. One book that she seems to enjoy is My Friends by Taro Gomi. Of course, I was quick to nit-pick on the writing.

My Friends tells the tale of a young girl who is learning all sorts of different skills and talents from her friends, most of whom are of the animal variety. (Spoiler: she befriends other humans toward the end.) She learns to walk from a cat and she learns to explore the earth from an ant. The artwork is simple and the text is understandably repetitive. That’s how little ones learn.

And while the book doesn’t have any real grammatical errors, there are a few stylistic choices that lead to ambiguous meanings and multiple possible interpretations. One of the best examples of this involves a bunny in the middle of some tall grass.

“I learned to hide from my friend the rabbit.”

Naturally, we’re meant to follow the structure of all the other pages in the book to interpret the meaning. Every page follows the same formula: “I learned to (action) from my friend the (animal).” Based on this, we should understand this sentence to mean that my friend, the rabbit, is the one who taught me how to hide. He provided me with instructions and guidance on the actions I needed to perform in order to hide.

But then there’s an alternate interpretation based on how the sentence is worded. Could it be that I learned it is in my best interest to hide from my “friend” the rabbit? So that he can’t find me? Could it be that the rabbit can get very violent and he hurts me? Maybe I hide from him for the sake of my personal safety and well-being!

I say this with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. Here’s another example:

“I learned to run from my friend the horse.”

Sure, it’s easy to think that this horse taught me how to run. Then again, maybe through experience, I learned that remaining in the immediate vicinity of the horse is not a good idea. As such, it is advantageous for me to run away from him rather than stick around.

Just as we discovered with Kevlar-wrapped sharks and a cookie-loving misanthrope, avoiding ambiguity in your writing is of paramount importance. Then, you can say with confidence that you learned how to express yourself clearly from your friend the freelance writer.