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I have the feeling that there is something wrong with the articles and the sentence in general...

Because motives, like concealing the birth of a child or killing one’s own infant in order to avoid stigmatization, did not apply for married women, it was not acceptable within society when they actually did kill their newborn.

I should have added some more context I guess.

This is about infanticide in the 18th-century. It's supposed to mean that unmarried women who got pregnant because they were sexually forced into a relationship couldn´t avoid a trial if they killed their newborn because the patriarchal/religious society punished them heavily in any case. There were more reasons one could think of than to avoid stigmatization which were all mentioned before this sentence in the essay. Those were, for example, not being able to provide for the child and being cast away from the household these women worked in resulting in poverty.

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    The sentence is grammatically fine, but as you point out, it's clumsy. After reading it, I'm still not completely sure what is meant by the word "motives"; I think "motives" is the wrong word here. If you can provide more context for this sentence, I could suggest an alternative phrasing. – Patrick Stevens Mar 4 '18 at 8:57
  • the reason that makes someone do something, especially when this reason is kept hidden (longsmans dictionary). There were several reasons for killing a child which were all discussed earlier. I found the word "motives" and "motif" when I looked up the German word "Motive". The dictionaries´ entry seemed to be exactly what it means in German. We would say "the motives for a crime or deed of whatever kind"... Is that not what it means in English? – Marcin Nowak Mar 4 '18 at 18:56
  • The word "motive" means the same thing as it means in German, yes. I misunderstood the clause "concealing the birth of a child or killing one's own infant in order to avoid stigmatization", taking "in order to avoid stigmatization" to belong only to "killing one's own infant". In fact it also applies to "concealing the birth of a child". – Patrick Stevens Mar 4 '18 at 19:29
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"did not apply for married women,...when they..."

not

"did not apply for a married woman, ...when they"

  • The problems with the sentence under discussion are far from exhausted by a disagreement in number between a pronoun and its antecedent. This is an unhelpful answer because it focuses on one minor error rather than the sentence as a whole, which is a mess. – Jeff Morrow Mar 4 '18 at 15:49
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The sentence contains at least one minor error in grammar (disagreement in number between they and its antecedent a married woman) and at least one error in usage (apply to is the idiomatic choice rather than apply for, which has a meaning different from what was intended). Those errors can easily be fixed, but the sentence will still remain a mess: utter nonsense can be grammatical. "Killing a child" is not a motive.

Here is how I think the sentence given may be turned into something comprehensible.

Because society stigmatized births only when out of wedlock, society also stigmatized married women who killed their newborns or concealed their pregnancies.

Now the previous sentence may or may not be true with respect to a particular society at a particular time, but it is comprehensible and consistent with the words of the sentence asked about. Of course, it may not be consistent with what the author intended because it strongly implies that society condoned unmarried women killing their newborns. But if that was NOT the intended meaning, then the introduction of married women into the sentence invited, almost demanded, misconstruction.

Bad writing is not always caused by bad grammar. More often it is caused by confused thought.

  • Sorry about the confusion! I edited the question. – Marcin Nowak Mar 4 '18 at 18:49
  • But a major point of the original sentence was that married women did NOT have to worry about concealing their pregnancies, (this "motive did not apply to them"), so when you reworded the sentence to say "...society also stigmatized married women who killed their newborns or concealed their pregnancies", this changed the whole premise of the argument. – malaprop Mar 4 '18 at 18:52
  • I just missed out on that one because I had rewritten the sentence twice I think. Nevertheless, all your comments were very helpful. I guess it is always a bad idea to separate the verb from the subject, stylistically speaking? – Marcin Nowak Mar 4 '18 at 19:50
  • The problems in this sentence have nothing to do with separating a verb and its subject. The primary problem is one of thought: it mixes up actions, like infanticide, which presumably was a crime whether the perpetrator was male or female, wed or unwed, other actions, like secretly putting a foundling on the church's doorstep, which was not a crime, a motive, avoiding stigmatization, which applied only to unwed mothers, and other motives, like avoiding poverty, which applied to many, but not all, regardless of marital status. Confused thought cannot be fixed by moving a verb. – Jeff Morrow Mar 5 '18 at 0:15
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It seems like a "run-on sentence" to me. I'm not sure if this is technically correct but I would change the comma here:

...married women, it was not acceptable...

...to a semicolon:

...married women; it was not acceptable...

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