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thank you for taking the time to take a look at my question! I am currently a teacher of English and an ex-in-company translator in startups. Now I am having a question about the correctness of a question in a test. Here is the question as follows.

Some people think that paper is too soft to make a box and that it is better to use plastic or metal. Actually, these things are stronger than paper, but we can make paper stong when we put many pieces of paper together.

The last bolded sentence is the issue.

I think we can rewrite this like....

we can make strong paper when we put many pieces of paper together.

However, the answer booklet says (in Japanese),

We cannot use the phrase make strong paper because this usage weakens the implication that paper is originally weak until it is fortified by putting many pieces of it together.

However, I believe that it is such a tunnel-visioned and poor explanation.

Here is my idea. We can safely say,

We can make a strong team when we work together.

instead of

We can make the team strong when we work together.

And above two sentences mean something totally identical.

Please give me your idea or advice regarding the aforementioned problem.

we can make paper strong when we put many pieces of paper together.

and

we can make strong paper when we put many pieces of paper together.

Are both of them grammatically correct?

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    "And above two sentences mean something totally identical" - no, they do not. – Michael Jaros Jul 24 at 10:13
  • Thank you so much for commenting on my question. I am so curious about your opinion now. Would you mind telling me in what way they differ in terms of meanings? – Kyozy Jul 24 at 12:53
  • Yes, of course. The meaning is similar, but there is one difference: The first sentence illustrates the idea of an activity leading to "a strong team". It is not clear, if there even was a team before the activity was started. The second sentence clearly implicates that there was a team ("the team"), but it was not strong before the activity would show its effects ("make [it] strong"). – Michael Jaros Jul 24 at 16:33
  • The difference is the same as that between (please excuse my Japanese) 「強いペーパーを作ることができます」 (‘we can make strong paper’) and 「ペーパーを強くすることができます」 (‘we can make paper strong’). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 27 at 23:04
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'make paper strong' - this implies that it was weak, but that is not the same as saying the paper had zero strength. The paper was too weak for the task, which we already know.

However, the statement is rather vague, but if this were part of a real discussion we would know which paper was meant, and would probably be referring to it as 'the paper'. If this were so, the phrasing would be understandable.

An alternative would be to try something like 'make the paper stronger'.

'make strong paper' - this is vague as well, because it is just an open statement (what paper?) in what should be part of a discussion. We would likely be stating something like 'make strong enough paper'.

Other issues include that if we bond several layers of paper together we will produce card, which would lead the text down a different road: 'we can make a sufficiently strong card by bonding several layers of the paper together'.

  • Thank you for answering my question! I see. I do understand that these sentences are vague. Do you think both of them means more or less the same thing in terms of its rough meaning? – Kyozy Jul 24 at 12:55
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"Making strong paper" suggests what you are starting with isn't paper. So when you encounter "put many pieces of paper together" we have to go back and reparse. It's not wrong per se, but it is a bit of a garden path situation.

"Making Paper strong" suggests that you are transforming something that is already paper into a stronger version. That is just better suited to what is happening here.

The word make is a bit overworked in English, and this is a way to begin sorting out which sense of make is being used.

And strangely, the verb strengthen doesn't work very well here either, because it tends to suggest an isotropic improvement to all the little pieces rather than creating a non-isotropic composite material optimizing some desirable trait.

  • To me, 'make strong paper' implies manufacturing paper in such a way that it is stronger than usual in itself. Your quotation refers to making ordinary paper stronger by putting several layers of it together. – Kate Bunting Jul 24 at 10:44
  • Thank you so much for answering and commenting on my question! I guess that we cannot say that "making stronger paper" is wrong per se, but in this context, maybe it is not an optimal expression to express what the sentence would like to originally mean. Thanks to the sentences before this, we can "guess" what the author means in either sentence. Therefore, it is about a slight difference in terms of implication. – Kyozy Jul 24 at 13:26
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'Make strong paper' and 'make paper strong' are both perfectly standard idiomatic English (i.e. what I think you mean by 'grammatical'. They look extremely similar but are parsed very differently. Let's compare minimal but complete sentences.

We make strong paper.

is a simple Subject Verb Object sentence:

NP(we) VP( V(make) NP(ADJ(strong) N(paper) ) ).

The verb 'make' is synonymous with construct, manufacture, create, produce, taking a single direct object which is what is produced, strong paper. What kind of paper do we make? Strong paper. There is nothing fancy going on here, the meaning of 'make' is the canonical one. The sentence is saying that we are fashioning paper that is strong.

We make paper strong.

is a special (but common) grammatical construction of 'make' with two objects:

NP(we) VP(V(make) NP(N(paper)) NP(ADJ(strong) ) ).

Here, 'make' means 'to cause to happen'. We are causing the first object to become or take on the properties of the second object. We 'make' the paper take on the property of strength. It's the same 'make' as in 'Don't tell mom I broke the vase'...'Make me (not tell mom)'. It is similar in syntax pattern to the version of 'call' in 'Call me Ishmael': it has two objects.

This pattern is learned as a special usage in intermediate language studies, where the first one is accessible to beginners with the available vocabulary.

  • Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ / We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; / One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. – tchrist Jul 27 at 21:18
  • The second construction doesn’t have two objects (as in “give me the book”, a direct and an indirect object), but rather than object and an object complement. In the same way that a subject complement is assigned identity with the subject (“I am your neighbour” :: “I = your neighbour”), an object complement is assigned identity with the object (“they call him Bob” :: “he = Bob”). So make means ‘cause [something] to become [something]’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 27 at 22:51

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