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I recently came across a question on our sister site, English Language Learners, which was asking about a question the OP had seen in some sort of language test which asked which word should be used to fill in the gap in this sentence (slightly abbreviated for brevity here):

The heightened alert ____ an emergency meeting with flu experts in Geneva

The expected answer was followed:

The heightened alert followed an emergency meeting with flu experts in Geneva

Somehow, it doesn't sit right with me that a heightened alert can follow a meeting. I would be fine with a rephrasing like:

Following the meeting, the country was placed on high alert.

Or, closer to the original:

The heightened alert was the result of an emergency meeting with flu experts in Geneva

But, for some reason, I am not happy with the idea that an alert followed an event. I think I am missing another noun there as I would be OK with the announcement of the heightened alert followed... It's the alert itself that I feel cannot follow a meeting.

Do I have a leg to stand on here? Is there something like the licensing of complements that verbs do perhaps? Or is this just my own personal hangup and there is nothing awkward about the phrase at all?


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    The context is all: The outbreak of swine flu that was first detected in Mexico was declared a global epidemic on June 11, 2009. It is the first worldwide epidemic designated by the World Health Organization in 41 years. It was the flu experts who declared it to be an epidemic: therefore followed is correct. Cambridge Dictionary has "to happen or come after something. We were not prepared for the events that followed." Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 20:41
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    Then I don't understand the question. It says "I can see how prompted would be perfectly natural here" and my comment disagrees. "Prompted" is the wrong sequence of events. The alert was issued following a meeting of flu experts. The alert followed it, the state of alert followed it. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 21:00
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    If you picture a radio call (red alert) that the committee issued later that day, then that announced labeled warning resulted from the meeting (followed it). Remember that standard tests in language skills ask for the best answer, not the correct one. Even in math, 1/2 will be marked right and 2/4 wrong Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 21:37
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    My mistake. I thought you were looking for help. No one is putting you down as not clear about the meaning. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 21:55
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    Questions asking about personal foibles are off-topic, but it's legitimate (if also off-topic) to criticise the sentence for being vague: was the alert a direct consequence of the meeting; was the meeting one of several factors that led to the alert (e.g. there was a meeting but also other discussions); or were the two connected in time but not in causality?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 8:59

2 Answers 2

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  • 'Following the meeting, the country was placed on high alert.'

(I'm ignoring the misplaced modifier problem that some will consider serious; see 'Does it really matter if it dangles?' [G Pullum in LanguageLog], the essence of which is given in the Dangling Participles thread.)

Oxford Learner's Dictionary has the sense (emphasised here, my italics):

following [preposition]:

after or as a result of a particular event

  • He took charge of the family business following his father's death.

As is obvious in their example, the death of the father was a (main) reason why the subject took control of the business; the father's death was in no way causal, and certainly did not exert persuasion (as say mother, a potential volitional agent, might have done).

The verb 'follow' can certainly be used in a corresponding way:

follow [verb] [transitive]:

5: to come into existence or take place as a result or consequence of

  • disaster followed the blunder

Though the definition of the intransitive usage seems more tolerant of the 'hidden human agency' interpretation ('resulted as an agency put into effect a plan to address this situation'):

follow [verb] [intransitive]:

2: to result or occur as a consequence, effect, or inference [Merriam-Webster]

And yes, 'follow' can indicate mere sequentiality, but the default readings in the examples above addresses reason/factor informing decision made to address the event/state mentioned.

........

On a separate issue:

  • 'The heightened alert followed an emergency meeting with flu experts in Geneva'

sounds more natural than

  • 'The alert followed an emergency meeting with flu experts in Geneva'.
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alert

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

noun
A condition or period of heightened watchfulness or preparation for action.

https://www.wordnik.com/words/alert

As Tinfoil Hat had implied in a comment underneath the original question, I think the issue for you here may actually be with the word alert, which in addition to being an adjective that means "watchful and attentive," can actually also be a noun that means "a period or state of watchfulness and attentiveness," which in this case, had been increased after the emergency meeting.

The heightened condition of watchfulness followed an emergency meeting with flu experts in Geneva.

What do you think? Does this help you more readily accept followed as a verb following "the heightened alert"?

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  • No, I am very familiar with the meanings of alert, thank you. I struggle to think what else it could mean in this context.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 12:40
  • TBF, if you were OK with the meaning of the word alert, you'd be OK with it being followed by the word followed 😂. @terdon Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 20:51
  • My issue is more with the lack of a verb. In this context, an alert needs to be announced or issued, or altered, or something. An alert was issued following the meeting would be fine, for example.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 21:00
  • In that case, how do you feel about Edwin Ashworth's answer up above? I had posted an alternative answer using the same definition for followed as he had (now deleted). Just wondering your take on his suggestion. (Feel free to continue the conversation under his answer, not here.) @terdon Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 21:10

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