Revolutions have thrown countries back in their development for decades!

In the sentence above I want to state the length of time that the countries went back in their development each time a revolution happened in them. However, it turns out that I am stating the time of how many years until now revolutions have negatively affected various countries (like in "Revolutions have negatively affected countries' economies for decades").

This confusion is, as far as I understand, due to the fact that the time modifier "for decades" can, on one hand, modify only the verbal phrase ("to throw back in development"), and yet, on the other hand, it can also modify the whole sentence.

So, how can I avoid this ambiguity in my sentence?

  • The phrase for decades is not appropriate here. When referring to setbacks, we use either the bare time-phrase or by + time-phrase. The chip shortage set back the product launch (by) six months. There is no ambiguity here if the proper preposition is used. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 5 '18 at 12:25

For minimal change in the original sentence you can use:

Revolutions have thrown countries decades back in their development!


Revolutions have thrown countries back by decades in their development!

Or I would rather say it with a slightly different structure:

A revolution can set back the development of a country by decades.

  • +1. for using the preposition by. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 5 '18 at 12:20

The ambiguity in your sentence comes from the fact that it could be interpreted to mean that for decades, revolutions have been throwing countries back in their development.

To give it the meaning you want, make it clear by explicitly referring to individual revolutions rather than revolutions in general:

Each revolution can throw a country back in its development for decades!

Update: A comment complained about me having changed the tense. However, attempts at clarification of exactly what was wanted went unanswered.

Reading the additional answers, and what was selected as the accepted answer, suggests what was wanted. Had it been made clear, I would have answered differently.

Considering every answer, and knowing what is wanted and what sentence components are allowed to be changed, I believe there is slightly different form from those that have already been offered:

Revolutions have thrown countries back in their development by decades!

  • But is it possible to retain the Present Perfect Tense in the sentence instead of turning it into Present Simple? Besides, I am not talking about some potential development ("can do smth"), but about the actual developments ("did smth") that happened in the past and are still happening until now. – brilliant Aug 5 '18 at 6:08
  • @brilliant I don't see how the original tense can be maintained unless you can also tell me for how long this series of revolutions (which set back countries by decades) have been going on. (Ideally, also which countries.) Without that context, the meaning of the sentence is incomplete—and it's not possible to preserve the tense without ambiguity. – Jason Bassford Aug 5 '18 at 6:17
  • 2
    A revolution can throw a country back decades in its development. – Michael Harvey Aug 5 '18 at 6:20
  • @brilliant I also need to know if the reworded sentence can claim that revolutions always do this, or if they only sometimes do this. – Jason Bassford Aug 5 '18 at 6:25
  • @JasonBassford - "I also need to know if the reworded sentence can claim that revolutions always do this" - Yes, I wanted to claim exactly that. It's mazing how adding one word "always" solves the whole problem! – brilliant Aug 5 '18 at 7:22

If you want to retain the Present Perfect Tense in the sentence , then Revolutions have always thrown countries back in their development for decades!

  • -1. for is the wrong preposition here. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 5 '18 at 12:20
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    for decades refers to a continuous stretch of time. We have been coming to this restaurant for decades. It does not refer to an increment of time. thrown...back requires an increment of time. Now, if the verb had been slowed, then for would work. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 5 '18 at 12:42

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