3 Cases Where One Word Makes a Difference
Often, the presence or absence of one word, or its location, can change the meaning of a sentence, or at the least affect the statement’s clarity. In each of the following sentences, inserting, omitting, or moving a word, respectively, improves its readability. Discussion and revision explain and demonstrate this improvement in each case.
1. Executive management should ensure that their companies are focused on the attributes that make for early-mover status and implement an early-warning capability.
This sentence intends to say that executive management should do two things: Ensure something and implement something. But it reads as if the company should do two things: focus on something and implement something. Or does it read as if the attributes do two things (make for early-mover status and implement an early-warning capability)?
For the sentence to be clear—for the suggested reinterpretation to make sense and the ambiguity of the sentence organization to be eliminated—the auxiliary verb should must be repeated: “Executive management should ensure that their companies are focused on the attributes that make for early-mover status and should implement an early-warning capability.”
2. Healthcare providers are expected to not only keep up with these changes, but also to look ahead.
In this sentence, because the first to precedes “not only,” it serves for “but also” as well: “Healthcare providers are expected to not only keep up with these changes but also look ahead.” (If to followed “not only,” it would apply only to that phrase and a corresponding to would be necessary after the complementary phrase “but also.”)
3. A security breach can be costly both in terms of costs and reputation.
Here, the placement of both is problematic—its location before “in terms of costs” implies that a corresponding (perhaps even identical) prepositional phrase will precede reputation, but if “in terms of” is to serve both costs and reputation, it must precede both (by preceding both): “A security breach can be costly in terms of both costs and reputation.”
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