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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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December 22, 2009


Marva Nelson

Two EMTs are accused of ignoring a pregnant woman who collapsed as they went on break. The woman later died.

The conjunction "because" still subtly suggests that the EMTs were the direct cause of the woman's death. The conjunction "as" may more accurately depict the circumstance that the woman collapsed at the same time that the EMTs went on their break. Great blog!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Marva, thanks for your revision. I like it and I would like to tweak it slightly. From the original, I did not get the impression that the woman collapsed as they were going on their break. So I would like to change your "as they went" to "while they were."

Again, thanks for your input!


Mickey Kohane

But doesn't 'because' explain 'ignore' in the original revision? There is a clearly stated causal relationship there [the reason they ignored her] that becomes implied with both 'as' and 'while.' In addition, those words presume timing that is not apparent form the original information [based on the blurb alone, she may very well have collapsed before they went on break and they simply heard about it at that time].
The subtle implication in the first revision--that the EMTs caused the woman's death-- seems to be clearly intended in the original.

Marva Nelson


Thanks and you are correct in changing my revision to "while they were on break..." as this is actual nature of the accusation. I read this story prior to finding your blog, but had to go back and relocate it. Here's a link to the actual story:;contentBody

I am teaching business and professional writing this semester after a 2 year hiatus, and if you do not mind, I will require my students to check out your blog.

Happy New Year!


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Mickey.

I agree with you that the original text suggested the EMTS caused the woman's death--because they were on their break.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Marva, thank you for linking to the original article.

Please do encourage your students to read this blog. They would also benefit from my free monthly newsletter, "Better Writing at Work." The subscriber signup is here:

I hope your class goes beautifully.



Sorry to hear this bad news, but I do agree with Lynn, because I think I read the news more clearly after revision.


I think your blog is great and wanted to throw this in:

Because they were on break, two EMTs ignored a pregnant woman who had collapsed and eventually died.

What are your thoughts? I am a little new to business writing.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Kate. Thanks for your kind words.

You asked about your revision. Because it leaves out the part about the EMTs being accused, it does not carry the full message. Starting with "Because they were on break" seems to rationalize their decision. Compare your version to the others, and I think you will feel the difference.

Have fun with your writing.


Gail Tycer

Great advice. I have my students do similar exercises during my seminars, because it is important for writers to make it clear "who did what." Another example I've found in print media: "The troops fired into the crowd protesting the return of the religious leader."

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks for commenting, Gail. To me, the sample sentence says the crowd was protesting. Did you see it differently?


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