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Is "A pointer is returned to an automatic variable" correct and unambiguous about what is "returned"?

I found this sentence in a book.

A pointer is returned to an automatic variable in a previous function call (discussed in the section “Pointers to Local Data” on page 66).

Based on the context, I guess the author really mean a pointer to an automatic variable is returned in a previous function call. Is my understanding correct? If so, the current word order is a little bit misleading and it could let people think we are returning a pointer to a variable, which is pointless. Is the current word order correct?

One Answer

Your understanding may be correct. I believe your rephrasing, "a pointer to an automatic variable is returned", is very likely what the original writer meant. That, however, leaves the final part of the sentence, "in a previous function call," to be placed with 'a pointer' or with 'an automatic variable'.

Based on its location in the original reference, I would assume the whole sentence would be rewritten, "A pointer to an automatic variable in a previous function call is returned."

It is unlikely that the original writer meant, "A pointer in a previous function call is returned to an automatic variable."

Since the original sentence is a bit confusing, as you note, it's difficult to know exactly what the writer meant.

Correct answer by EllieK on January 1, 2021

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