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English Grammar Lesson – Fun with relative clauses! August 16th, 2016

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

What did you just say? You are raving mad!

Believe it or not, that is a grammatically correct sentence with real meaning! Created in the 1960s, the sentence uses a mixture of different word meanings and very, very complex grammar to achieve one of the most confusing sentences we know. It uses absolutely no punctuation and appears to be missing many of the linking verbs and prepositions that we use to construct a sentence. However, the linguistic trick works like this:

The word “buffalo” has three different meanings.

1. Buffalo (adjective for the city of Buffalo, New York)
2. buffalo (plural noun for the animal–some people also call them “bison”)
3. to buffalo (verb which means to confuse or to scare someone)

The deconstructed meaning in plain English is:

Buffalo buffalo (bison from Buffalo, NY) Buffalo buffalo buffalo (that NY bison confuse) buffalo Buffalo buffalo (confuse (other) NY bison).

For the second part, Buffalo buffalo buffalo, a reduced relative clauses is used–removing the important relative pronoun “that.” It’s also important to note that the relative clause comes in the middle of the sentence, making it more confusing!

An example of this would be “The man that I saw earlier was my teacher.” By reducing the relative clause and removing the relative pronoun, we would get: “The man I saw earlier was my teacher.” That center-embedding of the clause “I saw earlier” interrupts the original clause: “The man was my teacher.”

In this case, removing the “that” from our middle sentence of “that Buffalo buffalo buffalo” simply left us with a herd of buffalos and no shepherd in sight!

The grammatical breakdown:

Academic blog relative clause buffalo chart