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1. "I treated him like a king."
2. "I defeated him like a soldier."
3. "I could see the tennis ball like a football."
It appears to me that the above sentences can be interpreted in more than one way.
Sentence #1 can mean either that I treated him like a king would treat him or that I treated him like I would treat a king.
Similarly #2 can mean either that I defeated him like a soldier would defeat him or that I defeated him like I would defeat a soldier.
My queston is, do we have to disambiguate such sentences in formal speech or are such sentences acceptable ?
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It is always a good idea to disambiguate when it is necessary, but you need to take each instance on its own merits. For #1 it is unnecessary to clarify, since this is an idiom. #2 is not idiomatic and is confusing; it should be recast. #3 is unambiguous on the grounds of commonsense, since footballs have no eyes to see.
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Debpriya DeSentence #1 can mean either that I treated him like a king would treat him or that I treated him like I would treat a king.
The expected interpretation here is "like I would treat a king".
Debpriya De2. "I defeated him like a soldier."
This is too ambiguous to be useful. Besides, it's a bit anomalous under either interpretation. I defeated him like a soldier would defeat him is anomalous. Ask ten people at random how a soldier defeats people and you'll have ten answers. There is no standard model to look to in order to decipher the meaning. Likewise, I defeated him like I would defeat a soldier is anomalous -- for the same reason.
Debpriya De3. "I could see the tennis ball like a football."
A football can't see, so like a football sees the tennis ball is out of the question. The alternative, like I can see a football, is anomalous because, as above, there is no commonly accepted way of seeing a football. You might possibly take this as as if it were a football, but the chances of anyone saying this sentence with that intended reading are infinitesimal. The speaker would undoubtedly express that thought differently.
Debpriya DeMy queston is, do we have to disambiguate such sentences in formal speech or are such sentences acceptable?
You have to rephrase such sentences so that they make sense. Such sentences (like #2 and #3) are completely unacceptable!

CJ