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What is the difference between saying:

Additionally, those who are in power can monitor communications specifically for opinions, particularly political attitudes, and track down opponents.

and

Additionally, those who are in power can monitor communications for specific opinions, particularly political attitudes, and track down opponents.

I know that the meaning changes, but I'm not really sure how? Thanks for the help!

  • Are these sentences that you have made up? I ask because they are too defective to make good examples. – Jeff Morrow Jun 23 '18 at 13:59
  • yes, they are made up, I wrote them in an essay – fael Jun 23 '18 at 14:24
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The first sentence uses an adverb, which modifies the verb "monitor" - so the sentence means that those who are in power can focus their monitoring on opinions, political attitudes and tracking down opponents.

For example, if I developed a new monitoring tool for the government, I could say that now they can monitor the Internet specifically for dissent, instead of having to monitor everything and sift through it manually.

Your other sentence uses an adjective, which modifies the noun "opinions" - so the sentence means that those who are in power can search for opinions, but not just any opinions - only the ones that interest them.

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  • This is a good answer, very close to one that I was writing. But eventually I became unsure of what was intended and chose not to answer at all. The meaning of the second sentence, where specific is matched with particularly, is very muddy, but the pairing of opinion and attitude. is also obscure. – Jeff Morrow Jun 23 '18 at 14:05
  • @JeffMorrow I feel like the use of "particularly" is ambiguous in both sentences - does it mean "(specific) opinions, particularly political attitudes", or "(specific) opinions and particularly political attitudes"? – Maciej Stachowski Jun 23 '18 at 14:12
  • what I was trying to say is that the people who are in power are able to monitor communications (like texts, phone calls, Facebook massages, ...) for certain opinions that are different to theirs, especially when it comes to politics. – fael Jun 23 '18 at 14:34
  • @MS, you are correct, but switching between adjective and adverb makes it worse. – Jeff Morrow Jun 23 '18 at 14:40
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Based on the OP's clarifying message, I think what is meant is

Additionally, those in power can monitor communications of attitude or opinion, explicitly political opinion in particular, that oppose the powerful.

In other words, the OP is not trying to limit what is being monitored to overtly political opinion, but recognizes that the boundary between the political and the cultural is fuzzy and that attitude affects opinion. I doubt that those in power care whether anyone prefers Dryden to Pope, but they may care whether someone is a fan of Hegel. If that indeed is the intended meaning then neither specific nor specifically clarifies that intent.

Questions of usage and grammar frequently come down to intended meaning.

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  • I don't see there is any ambiguity in the example sentences, and Maciej Stachowski's answer is right on target. Specifically is an adverb that modifies monitor, while specific is an adjective that modifies opinions. It would be perfectly fine to say "The system is specifically monitoring for specific opinions". – Andrew Jun 23 '18 at 15:22
  • I do not have any problem with your example and do not think any disagreement that we may have is material enough to warrant extended discussion. You may not have seen that I said MS's answer was a good one. But are we talking about attitudes or opinions and how do specifically and paricularly relate? – Jeff Morrow Jun 23 '18 at 20:33
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@fael, I have problems with both of your sentences, mainly because they are ambiguous. I am not sure if you mean, 'Those who are in power can monitor communications and they can also track down opponents', or, 'Those who are in power can monitor communications so that they can track down opponents'.

If you mean the former it would be better to include the phrase 'track down opponents' first, so that it does not get confused with the remainder of your sentence, eg:

Additionally, those who are in power can track down opponents and monitor communications for specific opinions, particularly political attitudes.

If you mean the latter then 'track down' needs to be changed to 'to track down' or 'tracking down'. The preposition 'for' in the prepositional phrase 'for specific opinions' will be carried through to the phrase 'track down'. However, in English we do not say 'for track down', the correct phrase is 'to track down', if you wish to retain 'for' then the phrase could be changed to 'tracking down opponents'. This would then change the sentence to either:

Additionally, those who are in power can monitor communications for specific opinions, particularly political attitudes, and to track down opponents.

or

Additionally, those who are in power can monitor communications for specific opinions, particularly political attitudes, and tracking down opponents.

I also agree with Jeff Morrow that matching 'specifically' (or 'specific') with 'particularly' and 'opinion' and 'attitude' tends to muddy your intended message. "Specifically' means 'to be exact, clear or precise'. In particular 'opinions' should not be conflated with 'attitudes'. "Attitudes are assumed to be more affective than cognitive, whereas opinions are more cognitive than affective." (Attitudes, Opinions and Why Dinner Matters). In other words, attitudes are based on what we feel and opinions are based on what we think. It should be noted that attitudes can influence opinions, but opinions are less likely to influence attitudes.

Taking all of this into consideration, I would suggest that you might say:

Additionally, those who are in power can monitor communications [specifically] for [specific] opinions (eg political opinions) and to track down opponents.

In the context of this sentence it does not matter if you use 'specifically' or 'specific'

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