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I have a collaborative software project with two other users. Nearly every technical report and documentation written goes through the following editorial changes to some of the sentences (examples below; note the differences in the parts in italics):

User A (original version)

  1. Example X can also be written as Y
  2. As is often the case, ...
  3. Such programs are generally known as ...

User B (revised version)

  1. Example X also can be written as Y
  2. As often is the case, ...
  3. Such programs generally are known as ...

Now both users are native speakers of English. As a non-native myself, I'm confused between the right style here. Both seem correct to me, but I couldn't care less either way. The consistency with which the users write these sentences makes me wonder if it is due to US/UK English conventions. An alternative explanation might be the expected style of writing in technical communication.

Can someone shed some light on this?

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Are you asserting that User B is from the UK and A is from the US? –  horatio Aug 21 '12 at 20:29
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I (a U.S. speaker) find all three of user A's original versions to be much, much better than user B's revised versions. –  ruakh Aug 21 '12 at 20:29
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The 3rd example is fundamentally different: A always means programs of this type are generally called..., whereas B can equally mean programs of this general type are called... –  FumbleFingers Aug 21 '12 at 20:37
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I don't think this is a matter of technical style. –  horatio Aug 21 '12 at 20:46
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I (a British English speaker) find user A's three versions flow better –  Henry Aug 21 '12 at 21:19
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3 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

I don't think any of us can say for sure, but it looks to me like User B is holding fast to the Thou Shalt Not Split Thine Infinitives commandment (hence, don't put an also in the middle of the can be, and don't insert a generally inside the are known).

As for my personal opinion, I think the versions of User A sound more natural, and User B is sacrificing some measure of readability for the sake of adhering to strict grade-school grammar rules. If my theory is right, it might be hard for User B to concede that User A has done a better job with the edits.

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Sounds like a good theory to me. By implication, you think User B is a somewhat ignorant pedant - which I agree with, because his choice of word-order is stilted in the first two examples, and ambiguous in the third. –  FumbleFingers Aug 21 '12 at 20:39
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@FumbleFingers: If I had to put money on it, I would likely lay my chips on the pedantic twit theory, not the from-either-side-of-the-pond theory. As I mentioned, though, there's no way to tell for sure based on the limited information provided. –  J.R. Aug 21 '12 at 20:44
    
I answered much the same as this below but deleted because it's too similar. The only thing I wanted to add is that adverb placement in English is flexible, unless it can cause confusion. I wouldn't call User B's choices wrong, but I would call them just what FF said - pedantic. –  Marcus_33 Aug 21 '12 at 20:47
    
This is actually a good theory. I think they're just rigidly sticking to grade school grammar without being aware of it. –  user25146 Aug 21 '12 at 20:48
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J.R., This goes beyond the split infinitive rule, which usually means Thou Shalt Not Split the Infinitive Verb From Its Infinitive Marker; that's not in play in any of these,and only one 1. uses an infinitive. B seems to be erecting a new and even more absurd rule that Thou Shalt Not Split ANY Periphrastic Verbal Construction. –  StoneyB Aug 21 '12 at 22:29
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I am in the U.S. and I agree with User A's original versions. In Claire Kehrwald Cook's book Line By Line (which I highly recommend), Ms. Cook, writes (p. 23):

An adverb modifying a verb phrase goes after the first word in the phrase (was extremely surprised, has often been said, would certainly have asked) unless, in verb phrases of three or more words, it modifies only the participle (had been justly accused, would have been officially ruled). You usually know instinctively when to put the adverb before the participle, and when you can't be sure, the position probably makes no difference.

This passage should address your last two examples. (That is, User A's wording is preferable.)

As for the placement of also, Ms. Cook writes (p. 25):

Whatever the grammatical complexities, also—meaning "in addition"—can attach itself to a variety of sentence elements, so that you have to place it carefully to avoid false connections. What element is "in addition" in the following sentence?

I also think he is lying about where he was that night.

Do you give the same answer when you read that sentence as the second of a pair?

She doesn't believe the defendant's alibi for the night of the murder. I also think he is lying about where he was that night.

I think he hated her enough to killer her. I also think he is lying about where he was that night.

The defendant lied about his pevious marriage. I also think he is lying about where he was that night.

These examples should demonstrate that also in the normal adverbial positions can sometimes seem to modify one sentence element and sometimes another, the interpretation varying with the context. Strictly speaking, the also belongs before think only when the sentence states an additional thought, as in the second example. Substituting too for also would more clearly convey the sense intended in the first example, and in the last example also belongs between is and lying.

In your first example, Example X can also be written as Y... is fine and preferable. You're talking about two ways of writing X.

Can you point this pattern of writing and revising out to the two parties involved? It is an astute observation, and they would both benefit from knowing they have a careful collaborator in you. You might recommend Line by Line, too.

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Thank you for the references! –  user25146 Aug 21 '12 at 22:11
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User A's answers sound better to me. I think you should tell User B to do some constructive work instead of replacing perfectly sound phrases with strange ones.

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Hi Aleksander, welcome to ELU. That's sound advice indeed in your first answer! –  FumbleFingers Aug 21 '12 at 20:41
    
I would agree and say that the editor deals with the grammar and the authors get a veto IIF the meaning is incorrect. –  horatio Aug 21 '12 at 20:42
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