I am not sure, but "for causing autism in X" seems ungrammatical when X is a person, when x is a particular group of people it doesn't sound off, but when it's a particular person, it sounds ungrammatical. Is it?

For example:

The pharmaceutical company Avalon was sued for causing autism in Michael.

  • Let me ask how you would write this. If you didn't write "in Michael" how would state it?
    – Don B.
    Mar 29, 2019 at 23:43
  • 1
    Are you really just asking about the preposition in in that sentence, and the phrase in Michael, and not for causing ...?
    – user3395
    Mar 29, 2019 at 23:50
  • @DonB. You could write "... for causing Michael's autism." But if you were being more specific, you would have to use "in," for example "... for causing cancer in Michael's neck." Writing "... for causing Michael's neck's cancer" isn't standard English, though it's fairly obvious what it the sentence means.
    – alephzero
    Mar 30, 2019 at 14:31

3 Answers 3


The phraseology you're interested in ("for causing autism in X") is grammatically correct, whether referencing a group or an individual. Arguments could be made as to whether or not you need a couple of commas, e.g.,

The pharmaceutical company, Avalon, was sued....

But whether or not they were necessary would depend on the preceding couple of sentences and the style requirements of whomever you're writing this for.

  • 2
    Commas would be used if a pharmaceutical company was previously discussed, but the fact that the name of the company is Avalon is only now being disclosed. Mar 29, 2019 at 23:46
  • @Acccumulation If previous context established the fact that only a single company was being discussed (even if not named), then the name is nonrestrictive and needs commas. Or so most people would say. Mar 30, 2019 at 0:20
  • @JasonBassford As a native British English speaker I don't know what "the name is nonrestrictive" even means - and I also disagree that commas are needed. "The pharmaceutical company" and "Avalon" are just two noun phrases denoting the same thing. The grammar is no different from a sentence like "I myself saw the UFO," which doesn't need commas around "myself" IMO.
    – alephzero
    Mar 30, 2019 at 14:38
  • @alephzero If I say, "My brother John," it's restrictive, and generally accepted that it should only be used if I have two or more brothers. It specifies a particular brother. If I only have a single brother, then it would be "my brother, John." Mar 30, 2019 at 15:11

I don't know about ungrammatical, but it certainly seems unnatural. It would be more usual to have:

The pharmaceutical company Avalon was sued for causing Michael's autism.

When it's a group or a category or a parameter, then causing X in Y is fine. For an individual, at least for this sort of use, you're right that it seems 'off'.

  • This only works in some instances. Change the sentence to "... for causing autism in the USA." You can't turn that around to "... causing the USA's autism", because the company is not accused of causing all the autism in the USA, only some of it. Of course (at least to a non-expert) it doesn't make much sense to talk about part of a single person's autism.
    – alephzero
    Mar 30, 2019 at 14:43
  • @alephzero: I did say "X in Y" was fine for a group or category or parameter... you can't say "the USA's autism" because the USA doesn't have autism (because it's a country). However, if you were to claim there were an autism epidemic, you could say "the USA's autism epidemic".
    – SamBC
    Mar 30, 2019 at 14:46

It's perfectly correct as a grammatical construct, yes. However, it is indeed off in this particular instance. For example, this sentence would be fine:

The pharmaceutical company Avalon was sued for causing famine in Springfield.

Here, the famine was something that occurred in the town, so the phrasing is both grammatical and natural. However, Autism isn't something that occurs in a person. You wouldn't say that *Michael has autism in him, you would say that Michael has autism.

So although it is indeed grammatical, the sentence certainly sounds off to my native's ear. Not because there's anything wrong with the general case of X caused Y in Z, but only because that doesn't make much sense when X is a disease and Y is a person.

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