I prefer to think of this as Santa giving out the Christmas gifts.
- Ho, ho, ho! Boken åt pappa och hunden åt katten!
Almost, it could mean 'the dog for the cat', as a phrase out of context.
This reminds me of a children's song, you have it in English too in several versions I think. In Swedish it's Bä bä vita lamm - "Baa, baa, white sheep". Wikipedia article here: https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A4,_b%C3%A4,_vita_lamm
So in this song, there's talk about how everyone in the family gets new clothes:
Helgdagsrock åt far och söndagskjol åt mor
och två par strumpor åt lille, lille bror.
(roughly: 'holiday coat for father and Sunday skirt for mother and two pairs of socks for little little brother')
In the song it's obvious that the clothes are for the members of the family. But people will often jokingly say that this is the song "about the family that ate clothes" because the other interpretation is also possible. :D
Could it also be interpreted as the clothes that ate the family? I know I've been swallowed up by a few oversized coats and sweaters in my time. :P
Yes, since we don't have case markers for nouns, you can't really tell who ate whom. :D (or who/what ate whom/what)
In theory it could, but in practice you would have to add something else to make that work (and also use a special stress pattern).
Could you somehow explain how the two stress patterns would be different "(the dog at the cat" vs. "the cat ate the dog")?
Could this also mean "the cat ate the dog?" How can one be sure about the subject in a case like this?
Technically, yes - it could mean "the dog was what the cat ate". But it's only ever phrased that way for very specific reasons, and is not an accepted answer.
I agree. It's an awful sentence and I wish Duolingo would remove it. There are plenty of other word combinations to help us learn.