Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." is a grammatically correct sentence in American English, often presented as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs through lexical ambiguity. It has been discussed in literature in various forms since 1967, when it appeared in Dmitri Borgmann's Beyond Language: Adventures in Word and Thought.

The sentence employs three distinct meanings of the word buffalo:

  • as a proper noun to refer to a specific place named Buffalo, the city of Buffalo, New York being the most notable;
  • as a verb (uncommon in regular usage) to buffalo, meaning "to bully, harass, or intimidate" or "to baffle"; and
  • as a noun to refer to the animal, bison (often called buffalo in North America). The plural is also buffalo.

More easily decoded, though semantically equivalent, would be:     Bison from Buffalo     that other bison from Buffalo bully     [themselves] bully bison from Buffalo.

Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree
Simplified parse tree S = sentence
NP = noun phrase
RC = relative clause
VP = verb phrase
PN = proper noun
N = noun
V = verb

Sentence construction

Buffalo sentence diagram
Reed-Kellogg diagram of the sentence
Bison fight in Grand Teton NP
Buffalo engaged in a contest of dominance. This sentence supposes they have a history of being bullied by other buffalo, and they are from Buffalo, New York.
Buffalo buffalo WikiWorld by Greg Williams
A comic explaining the concept

The sentence is unpunctuated and uses three different readings of the word "buffalo". In order of their first use, these are:

  • a. a city named Buffalo. This is used as a noun adjunct in the sentence;
  • n. the noun buffalo (American bison), an animal, in the plural (equivalent to "buffaloes" or "buffalos"), in order to avoid articles.
  • v. the verb "buffalo" meaning to outwit, confuse, deceive, intimidate, or baffle.

The sentence is syntactically ambiguous; however, one possible parse (marking each "buffalo" with its part of speech as shown above) would be as follows:

Buffaloa buffalon Buffaloa buffalon buffalov buffalov Buffaloa buffalon.

When grouped syntactically, this is equivalent to: [(Buffalonian bison) (Buffalonian bison intimidate)] intimidate (Buffalonian bison).

The sentence uses a restrictive clause, so there are no commas, nor is there the word "which," as in, "Buffalo buffalo, which Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo." This clause is also a reduced relative clause, so the word that, which could appear between the second and third words of the sentence, is omitted.

An expanded form of the sentence which preserves the original word order is: "Buffalo bison, that other Buffalo bison bully, also bully Buffalo bison."

Thus, the parsed sentence reads as a claim that bison who are intimidated or bullied by bison are themselves intimidating or bullying bison (at least in the city of Buffalo – implicitly, Buffalo, New York):

  1. Buffalo buffalo (the animals called "buffalo" from the city of Buffalo) [that] Buffalo buffalo buffalo (that the animals from the city bully) buffalo Buffalo buffalo (are bullying these animals from that city).
  2. [Those] buffalo(es) from Buffalo [that are intimidated by] buffalo(es) from Buffalo intimidate buffalo(es) from Buffalo.
  3. Bison from Buffalo, New York, who are intimidated by other bison in their community, also happen to intimidate other bison in their community.
  4. The buffalo from Buffalo who are buffaloed by buffalo from Buffalo, buffalo (verb) other buffalo from Buffalo.
  5. Buffalo buffalo (main clause subject) [that] Buffalo buffalo (subordinate clause subject) buffalo (subordinate clause verb) buffalo (main clause verb) Buffalo buffalo (main clause direct object).
  6. [Buffalo from Buffalo] that [buffalo from Buffalo] buffalo, also buffalo [buffalo from Buffalo].
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo sentence diagram
A diagram explaining the sentence
Buffalo-comparison sentence
Diagram using a comparison to explain the buffalo sentence


Thomas Tymoczko has pointed out that there is nothing special about eight "buffalos";[1] any sentence consisting solely of the word "buffalo" repeated any number of times is grammatically correct. The shortest is "Buffalo!", which can be taken as a verbal imperative instruction to bully someone ("[You] buffalo!") with the implied subject "you" removed,[2]:99–100, 104 or as a noun exclamation, expressing e.g. that a buffalo has been sighted, or as an adjectival exclamation, e.g. as a response to the question, "where are you from?" Tymoczko uses the sentence as an example illustrating rewrite rules in linguistics.[2]:104–105


The idea that one can construct a grammatically correct sentence consisting of nothing but repetitions of "buffalo" was independently discovered several times in the 20th century. The earliest known written example, "Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo", appears in the original manuscript for Dmitri Borgmann's 1965 book Language on Vacation, though the chapter containing it was omitted from the published version.[3] Borgmann recycled some of the material from this chapter, including the "buffalo" sentence, in his 1967 book, Beyond Language: Adventures in Word and Thought.[4]:290 In 1972, William J. Rapaport, now a professor at the University at Buffalo but then a graduate student at Indiana University, came up with versions containing five and ten instances of "buffalo".[5] He later used both versions in his teaching, and in 1992 posted them to the LINGUIST List.[5][6] A sentence with eight consecutive "buffalo"s is featured in Steven Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct as an example of a sentence that is "seemingly nonsensical" but grammatical. Pinker names his student, Annie Senghas, as the inventor of the sentence.[7]:210

Neither Rapaport, Pinker, nor Senghas were initially aware of the earlier coinages.[5] Pinker learned of Rapaport's earlier example only in 1994, and Rapaport was not informed of Borgmann's sentence until 2006.[5] Even Borgmann's example may not be the oldest: computational linguist Robert C. Berwick, who used a five-"buffalo" version in a 1987 book,[8]:100 claims he had heard the sentence as a child ("before 1972, to be sure") and had assumed it was part of common parlance.[5]

Versions of the linguistic oddity can be constructed with other words which similarly simultaneously serve as collective noun, adjective, and verb, some of which need no capitalization (such as "police").[9]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ Henle, James; Garfield, Jay; Tymoczko, Thomas (2011). Sweet Reason: A Field Guide to Modern Logic. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 1118078632.
  2. ^ a b Thomas Tymoczko; James M. Henle (2000). Sweet reason: a field guide to modern logic (2 ed.). Birkhäuser. ISBN 978-0-387-98930-3.
  3. ^ Eckler, Jr., A. Ross (November 2005). "The Borgmann Apocrypha". Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. 38 (4): 258–260.
  4. ^ Borgmann, Dmitri A. (1967). Beyond Language: Adventures in Word and Thought. New York, NY, USA: Charles Scribner's Sons. OCLC 655067975.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rapaport, William J. (5 October 2012). "A History of the Sentence 'Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.'". University at Buffalo Computer Science and Engineering. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  6. ^ Rapaport, William J. (19 February 1992). "Message 1: Re: 3.154 Parsing Challenges". LINGUIST List. Retrieved 14 September 2006.
  7. ^ Pinker, Steven (1994). The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY, USA: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  8. ^ Barton, G. Edward, Jr.; Berwick, Robert C.; Ristad, Eric Sven (1987). Computational Complexity and Natural Language. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
  9. ^ Gärtner, Hans-Martin (2002). Generalized Transformations and Beyond. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. p. 58. ISBN 978-3050032467.
  10. ^ "Buffalo – Alt-J". Google. Retrieved 2017-04-07.

External links

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously is a sentence composed by Noam Chomsky in his 1957 book Syntactic Structures as an example of a sentence that is grammatically correct, but semantically nonsensical. The sentence was originally used in his 1955 thesis "Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory" and in his 1956 paper "Three Models for the Description of Language". Although the sentence is grammatically correct, no obvious understandable meaning can be derived from it, and thus it demonstrates the distinction between syntax and semantics. As an example of a category mistake, it was used to show the inadequacy of certain probabilistic models of grammar, and the need for more structured models.

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher

"James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher" is an English sentence used to demonstrate lexical ambiguity and the necessity of punctuation,

which serves as a substitute for the intonation,stress, and pauses found in speech.

In human information processing research, the sentence has been used to show how readers depend on punctuation to give sentences meaning, especially in the context of scanning across lines of text. The sentence is sometimes presented as a puzzle, where the solver must add the punctuation.

It refers to two students, James and John, required by an English test to describe a man who had suffered from a cold in the past. John writes "The man had a cold", which the teacher marks incorrect, while James writes the correct "The man had had a cold". Since James' answer was right, it had had a better effect on the teacher.

The sentence is much easier to understand with added punctuation and emphasis:

James, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.

In each of the five "had had" word pairs in the above sentence, the first of the pair is in the past perfect form. The italicized instances denote emphasis of intonation, focusing on the differences in the students' answers, then finally identifying the correct one.

Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den (simplified Chinese: 施氏食狮史; traditional Chinese: 施氏食獅史; pinyin: Shī Shì shí shī shǐ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: si sī si̍t sai sú; literally: 'The Story of Mr. Shi Eating Lions") is a passage composed of 92 characters written in Classical Chinese by linguist and poet Yuen Ren Chao (1892–1982), in which every syllable has the sound shi when read in modern Mandarin Chinese, with only the tones differing. It is an example of a one-syllable article, a form of constrained writing possible in tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese.

List of linguistic example sentences

The following is a partial list of linguistic example sentences illustrating various linguistic phenomena.

One-syllable article

A one-syllable article (Chinese: 同音文章; pinyin: Tóngyīn wénzhāng) is a type of constrained writing found in Chinese literature. It takes advantage of the large number of homophones in the Chinese language, particularly when writing in Classical Chinese due to historic sound changes. While the characters used in a one-syllable article have many different meanings, they are all pronounced as the same syllable, although not with the same tone. Therefore, a one-syllable article is comprehensible in writing but becomes an incomprehensible tongue twister when read aloud, especially in Mandarin Chinese pronunciation. In other regional pronunciations not all syllables may sound alike.

Reduced relative clause

A reduced relative clause is a relative clause that is not marked by an explicit relative pronoun or complementizer such as who, which or that. For example, the clause I saw in the English sentence "This is the man I saw.". Unreduced forms of this relative clause would be "This is the man that I saw." or "...whom I saw.".

Another form of reduced relative clause is the "reduced object passive relative clause", a type of nonfinite clause headed by a past participle, such as the clause found here in: "The animals found here can be dangerous."

Reduced relative clauses are given to ambiguity or garden path effects, and have been a common topic of psycholinguistic study, especially in the field of sentence processing.

Semantic satiation

Semantic satiation (also semantic saturation) is a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds. Extended inspection/Over-Analysation in place of repetition also produces the same effect.

That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is

That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is is an English word sequence demonstrating syntactic ambiguity. It is used as an example illustrating the importance of proper punctuation.The sequence can be understood as any of four grammatically-correct sequences, each with at least four discrete sentences, by adding punctuation:

That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is that it? It is.

That that is, is that that is. Not is not. Is that it? It is.

That that is, is that that is not. Is not "is that" it? It is.

That that is, is that that is not, "is not." Is that it? It is.

The first two relate a simple philosophical proverb in the style of Parmenides that all that is, is, and that anything that does not exist does not. The phrase was noted in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.This phrase appeared in the 1968 American movie Charly, written to demonstrate punctuation to the main character Charly's teacher, in a scene to demonstrate that the surgical operation to make the character smarter had succeeded.


Wikishuffle was a UK comedy podcast presented by Jack Stewart, Chris Wallace and Philip Sharman, reliant on the Wikipedia random article button for content.

On September 12, 2015, Wikishuffle was awarded the title of Best Comedy Podcast at the 2015 UK Podcasters Awards hosted by New Media Europe.

William J. Rapaport

William J. Rapaport is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo.

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