3 Examples of Confusion Caused by Missing Words

By Mark Nichol

In each of the sentences below, omission of a small but key word muddles the statement’s meaning. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and a revision to each sentence provides a clarifying solution.

1. Some organizations still look at privacy and security as a cost/benefit equation, rather than an issue that could create long-term damage.

This sentence requires corresponding prepositions preceding the phrases that express conflicting possibilities; otherwise, readers may be unclear as to whether “an issue that could create long-term damage” is complementary to “a cost/benefit equation” or whether the former phrase describes something organizations still look at instead of privacy and security: “Some organizations still look at privacy and security as a cost/benefit equation, rather than as an issue that could create long-term damage.”

2. The agency particularly calls out the need for firms to ensure systems and technologies are resilient to cyberattack and that firms are not exposed to attack during periods of change.

The conjunction that is often optional, but it is recommended after ensure so that the reader is not temporarily misled into misunderstanding, for example, that the phrase “ensure systems and technologies” does not refer to ensuring those things themselves as opposed to ensuring that something about them occurs or is true: “The agency particularly calls out the need for firms to ensure that systems and technologies are resilient to cyberattack and that firms are not exposed to attack during periods of change.”

3. Respondents from the region are also significantly less likely to believe that the direction of regulatory scrutiny is increasing than other regions.

Here, the notion of other regions, rather than a situation occurring in other regions, is compared to the original situation. To clarify the relationship of the key phrases, a preposition should precede “other regions”: “Respondents from the region are also significantly less likely to believe that the direction of regulatory scrutiny is increasing than those in other regions.”

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7 Responses to “3 Examples of Confusion Caused by Missing Words”

  • D.A.W.

    Venqax, you need to read about the writings of Aristotle.
    “cost/benefit equation” is illogical, and good writing needs to be logical. Don’t try to weasel your way out of that!

  • venqax

    “As it stands, the original sentence is neither Aristotelian, Archimedean, Galilean, Newtonian, nor Boolean.”

    Ok, but that is not writing issue or an issue of writing. That is a different kind of proble, or a problem of a different kind, from being posted about here or is here begin posted about.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I once saw a long sentence that included the phrase “claim Alaska”.
    I wrote to the author, “Nobody can claim Alaska. Alaska belongs to the United States, once and for all, because it is a state.”
    Territories like the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa could conceivably be sold or given away by Congress.
    On the other hand, if Canada wanted to buy Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, or Maine, the answer would be, “Not for sale.” Likewise, the United States could never buy Manitoba or Montreal.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with Blair Perry whole-heartedly about the second two. They are written in PURE bureaucratese of the nauseating kind!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Here is what is really wrong with the first example sentence: the phrase “cost/benefit equation” really stinks. It does not make sense from the points-of-view of either mathematics, or the kind of logic that goes all the way back to Aristotle.
    Here are some improvements – some substitutions:
    cost/benefit analysis
    cost/benefit ratio
    cost/benefit decision
    cost/benefit function
    As it stands, the original sentence is neither Aristotelian, Archimedean, Galilean, Newtonian, nor Boolean.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Some organizations still look at privacy and security as a cost/benefit equation, rather than an issue that could create long-term damage.
    Some organizations still look at privacy and security as a cost/benefit equation, rather than as an issue that could create long-term damage.
    Oh, I had to erase everything else to be able to see what the difference is. The word “as”. The second version is definitely better, especially from the point-of-view of parallel construction.
    On the other hand, the first version is nearly as good because my human brain automatically provided the second “as”.

  • Amazing Blair Peery

    I don’t usually disagree with you, but…

    The first sentence is clear as written; it needs no adjustment. The next two sentences are beyond help. Even with your fixes, they are awful. They should be detonated and their authors slapped repeatedly.

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