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According to “Objective IELTS” the above mentioned sentence needs the following correction:

It seems that Japanese customs have been changing little by little since around 1920.

What is the nature of this mistake? Can it change the meaning of the sentence?

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    While I find the sentence inelegantly phrased, I don't see how it is ungrammatical in any way. Is this the entire exercise, or is there additional context? – choster Apr 23 at 12:28
  • The task was: “Correct the word order in these sentences ..” “Check your word order carefully, especially in questions or wh- clauses, or with adverbs.” There were 6 separate sentences given – 1. We always must look at the good side of everything we do. 2. The spending slightly dropped to less than 10m. 3. The concept of joint family exists rarely. 4. More flights will create certainly more noise. 5. In some families, parents give money to their children, but without any advice on how carefully to use them. 6. The given sentence. – Zak Apr 23 at 12:43
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    Just remember to put adverbial phrase closer to the verbs they modify. That's all your teacher wants you to do. Also, "... without any advice on how to use them carefully" would work better (i.e., more elegantly) that the construction you chose. – Robusto Apr 23 at 13:19
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"Objective IELTS" is a private company and not any kind of official testing agency. They probably give good advice, but that does not mean they are always correct.

However, in this case the important information is that the IELTS may mark incorrect even minor mistakes such as where adverbs are placed in a sentence. While the example sentence is grammatical, it would be better to place the adverb closer to the verb it modifies.

The problem I have with this sentence is that even the "correct" answer is awkward. I don't like ending with "since around 1920", because it's both unnecessarily confusing and unnecessarily vague.

It's unnecessarily confusing because, when added at this point in a sentence, "since" frequently means "because". You should avoid writing sentences that make the reader unsure about the meaning of ambiguous terms.

It's unnecessarily vague because 1920 was quite some time ago, so unless the date relates to some important information, it's hardly necessary to qualify with "around 1920". No one cares if the date is not exact.

Overall, it's not clear what the sentence intends to say. I understand what it means by itself, but it doesn't seem to fit elegantly into any larger context. Here's one way I would have written this sentence, in order to better lead into a discussion of these changes in customs:

It seems that Japanese customs have changed, little by little, from what they were in 1920.

I understand this may be of little help for the official examination, but it irritates me when a student is asked to "fix" a sentence that is fundamentally broken.

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