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After submitting the report, changes can be made only for the font size, margins, and line spacing.

Does this sentence imply that changes can be made only if all three types of changes are made?

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closed as off topic by MετάEd, kiamlaluno, Hellion, Kristina Lopez, Kris May 14 '13 at 9:02

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'After the report has been submitted, the only changes that can be made are to the font size, margins, and / or line spacing.' Or, if your readers are strict literalists, 'After the report has been submitted, the only changes that can be made are to any subset of the font size, margins, and line spacing.' Though few would interpret your original differently. –  Edwin Ashworth May 13 '13 at 8:39

2 Answers 2

I would change the sentence to read thus:

After the report has been submitted, desired or needed changes may be made only to font size, margins, and line spacing.

I don't think an average reader would wonder whether this sentence meant all three must be if any one is changed, or only one of the three may changed. If the latter were the case, surely the sentence would say:

After the report has been submitted, only one of three types of changes may be made: font size, margins, or line spacing.

There's always a less ambiguous way of writing a sentence. But sometimes it requires more words and a different structure.

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Does this sentence imply that changes..made?

No.

Does this sentence mean that changes..made?

Maybe.

The person who wrote the sentence obviously did not want to tie the three types of changes together and that is what the reader will understand if he doesn't take the semantics too seriously. But the sentence is ambiguous, no doubt. So what can we do bring in more semantic clarity to the sentence? Perhaps the simplest change would be to replace the and with an or. The ambiguity however, still remains for the sentence would now mean that only one of the three changes can be made once the report has been submitted. So unless we state explicitly what we want the sentence to imply, it'll remain a bit ambiguous when stated without any context.

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