I recently read the following sentence:

He helped normalize relations between the US and Vietnam and Laos.

Assuming Vietnam and Laos already had normal relations with each other (which they might not have, but that's another question), how would one write this sentence less awkwardly, or is this the best way to write it briefly? I'd like to have the implication that the US had a similar relationship with Vietnam and Laos. If the numbers on either side were different, I would have no problems. Should a comma go after "US"?

Apologies if this has been asked, but I don't know how to phrase it searchably.

2 Answers 2


Try reading it aloud and seeing whether any pause in your voice can disambiguate this. This isn’t going to be a place where careful commas are likely to help you.

You have to somehow separate the things that are not meant to cluster together from those that are. For example:

  1. He helped normalize US relations with Vietnam and Laos.
  2. He helped normalize bilateral relations between the US on one side and Vietnam and Laos on the other.

Those are now clear whether written or spoken.

  • Those are clear, and the first is nearly as short. I guess the solution is to break up the enumeration more substantially.
    – Rusty
    Nov 18, 2017 at 22:22

I am not sure exactly what the original sentence is trying to say though that may be clear in context. So suggesting a re-write is difficult. It is possible that the original writer was sensitive to the distinction between the words "between" and "among," but many writers ignore that distinction.

If the meaning is about bilateral relations between the US and Vietnam and bilateral relations between the US and Laos, then the following is concise and clear without being stilted or awkward.

"He helped the US normalize its relations both with Vietnam and with Laos."

  • I'm not sure if this conveys the idea that the US ended with similar relations with each of them, which seems to be one of the OP's requirements. The only way to get that across, as far as I can see, is with @tchrist's second option.
    – WS2
    Nov 18, 2017 at 18:32
  • @ WS2 "Normalizing relations" is, as I understand it, a term of diplomatic art. My understanding is that there are not degrees; it is a binary state of affairs. Either you have normal diplomatic relations, or you do not. Nov 18, 2017 at 22:42
  • I hear what you say, and it is not an unreasonable position to take. But the OP speaks of "similar" suggesting "normal" is being used in a descriptive rather than binary sense.
    – WS2
    Nov 18, 2017 at 23:13
  • @ws2 I agree that the OP does not seem to interpret "normalizing relations" in the technical sense. But the OP said he had read the sentence, not written it. And I agreed in my answer that I was not sure what the writer intended. So my answer assumed that "normalizing relations" had its technical meaning to the writer. My answer thus is apt only if I guessed correctly as to the writer's intent. Nov 19, 2017 at 3:39
  • Ok. I think between us we got there in the end!
    – WS2
    Nov 20, 2017 at 7:59

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