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Are the following two statements written in correct grammar? What do they mean? Can they be written in more easily understandable manner? If yes, how should they be re-written?

The student's pass will be issued no earlier than one month from the course commencement date. This letter will be valid for two months or till the course commencement date as indicated above, whichever is later.

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The sentences are grammatical, but I find their meaning unclear, almost contradictory. The first sentence seems to imply that time from issuance-of-letter to commencement-of-course is at most one month, but the second sentence seems to imply that it's possible for this time to be more than two months (otherwise it could just say "This letter will be valid for two months" and ignore the possibility that the course commencement date is later than two months after the date of issuance).

Perhaps the sentences would make sense with greater context or background (such as an understanding of what this "student's pass" is), but even if so, I feel confident that they could be made more understandable by adjusting the wording. Some phrases are unnecessarily stilted — "the course commencement date" could be rephrased as "the first day of the course" — while others are ambiguous — "one month from […]" can mean either "one month before […]" or "one month after […]".

Here's one possibility:

The pass will be issued no more than a month before the course begins, and will be valid for two months.

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  • Phrases like "no more than a month before" can cause confusion because of the double negation-- that's why people say things like "no sooner than one month before", because you can't mix up the chronological meaning of "sooner". – bobtato Jun 30 '14 at 1:54
  • @bobtato: Sorry, but "double negation" clearly isn't what you mean, since there's only one negation. Can you clarify what you do mean? – ruakh Jun 30 '14 at 2:10
  • I mean, the sense of the flow of time is negated twice. "A month before" measures time counting backwards, and "more than a month" measures (a quantity of) time counting forwards. It's not ambiguous, but it can be difficult for people to process, whereas "earlier" or "sooner" makes it clear that the result of the calculation will be a minimum date. – bobtato Jun 30 '14 at 2:30
  • @bobtato: That's really interesting; I've never heard of any difficulty like that. Do you happen to have any relevant references? – ruakh Jun 30 '14 at 2:46
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These sentences are grammatical, and I would say they are easy to understand... eventually. The meaning itself is relatively complicated, and you might have to read it slowly a couple of times, but I think it's been carefully written so that you will get the right meaning in the end.

It could be a little less stilted and formal:

You will get your pass the month before the course starts, but not before then. This letter will expire on the 12th of October.

(since the relevant date is printed on the letter, they shouldn't be requiring you to do the math, but that's an admin issue rather than a language issue).

UPDATE: to answer the second part of the OP's question, the meaning of the sentences is:

  1. The pass will be issued one month before the commencement date, or after that time.
  2. This letter will expire when the course starts, but if the course starts in less than two months, this letter will expire two months from now.
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  • Part of the OP's question is "What do they mean?", so if you find them easy to understand, you should answer that part. :-) – ruakh Jun 30 '14 at 2:11
  • Good point! I updated the answer. – bobtato Jun 30 '14 at 2:21

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