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I came across this phrase below which is meant to be filled in with the correct form on the word "sustain".

The report highlights fears that currently rapid increases in yields come at
the expense of _______.

However I found that it could be filled in with both "sustainability" and "unsustainability".

In the first case the phrase would suggest one would have to sacrifice sustainability for a faster increase in yields.

In the second case it suggests one would achieve greater unsustainability if the yields were to increase at a faster pace.

In my opinion, both basically mean the same thing, yet the word is used in its exact opposite forms; although I do agree simply using "sustainability" does not overcomplicate the meaning of the phrase.

What do you guys think? I believe the same could apply with many other words.

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    This can be answered by looking up "at the expense of" in a dictionary and finding that this phrase means "in a way that harms." You're not harming unsustainability when you use that word, so it doesn't work. – Katherine Lockwood Dec 27 '16 at 18:28
  • @KatherineLockwood The phrase "At the expense of increased environmental pollution" does not make a reference to harming environmental pollution either yet the phrase is correct. – dkg Dec 27 '16 at 18:40
  • @dkg - What makes you sure that it is correct? – Jim Dec 27 '16 at 19:25
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"At the expense of" means that the increased yields will negatively effect whatever value fills the blank. You would refer to the positive value "sustainability," not the negative form "unsustainability."

You wouldn't speak of decrease in unsustainability as an expense, or its increase as an achievement.

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