A “moral imperative” is emerging .... that is similar ["that" refers to?]

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LQZ

Senior Member
Mandarin
A “moral imperative” is emerging to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases in poor countries that is similar to the one that developed during the AIDS epidemic a decade ago, a leading health expert said Wednesday. The Washington Post

Dear all,

I suppose that is refering "a moral imperative" and wonder whether the "that" clause is in the right place. To me, it should have been put after "imperative" because it is modifying "imperative". Could you please explain to me? Thanks.


LQZ
 
  • Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    It refers to the 'moral imperative'.

    Your suggested stylistic improvement would enhance the sentence. Or you could simply cut out the 'that is'.

    A “moral imperative” is emerging to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases in poor countries ( ) similar to the one that developed during the AIDS epidemic a decade ago, a leading health expert said Wednesday.
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    The sentence is grammatically correct as it stands. But a sentence can be grammatically correct and still be confusing, ambiguous, and liable to misreading.

    Edit: I respectfully disagree with Beryl about removing "that is." As it stands, the singular verb "is" immediately adverts you to the fact that the phrase that follows cannot be describing "countries." But when you run together "countries similar to the one that emerged ...", then you are much more likely to spawn infelicitous misreadings.
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    There is no rule requiring the clause "that . . . decade ago" be placed immediately after "moral imperative." In fact, that might make the sentence more confusing, because it would separate "moral imperative" from what the "moral imperative" requires. The author has a problem in that both "that . . . decade ago" and "to prevent . . . in poor countries" are long clauses. However he arranges them, the sentence will be a complex one. It's not something for elementary schoolers, perhaps not even for high schoolers, but the sentence was probably not written for readers at those levels. To a well-educated native speaker experienced at reading sentences of this complexity, it is quite clear that "that . . . decade ago" modifies "moral imperative." The sentence could have been broken into two:
    "A 'moral imperative' is emerging to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases in poor countries. A leading health expert said Wednesday that this new ethic is similar to the one that developed during the AIDS epidemic a decade ago."
    But there is nothing grammatically wrong with the original, and I would argue that it isn't even poor style.
     
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    LQZ

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Thank you, everyone. I carefully read your posts and learned language is more flexible than I thought. Thanks again. :)
     
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