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The original text:

Recently some studies were made in the behaviour of mice when exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise, and the mice just became deranged.

Is it supposed to be something like this?

Recently some studies were made in the behaviour of mice. When exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise, the mice just became deranged.

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The original sentence and the revised sentence may have different meanings.

In the original, it could be saying that the studies were done in the behaviour of mice who [something].

It's similar to the title of an article like this:

A study of [freshwater fish who turn green and die after being exposed to oxygen].

With your revision, you have dismissed the qualification of the studies. Now, it no longer says what the studies is about specifically, only what that they are about the behaviour of mice. That's an awfully broad statement.

To continue the analogy from above, it would be like rephrasing the title of the article in this way:

A study of [fresh water fish]. They turn green and die after being exposed to oxygen.

While still true, it no longer mentions that it's only a study of fish who turn green and die after being exposed to oxygen. The second sentence is now additional information—not essential information about the subject of the study.


Syntactically, with the use of when in the original, it's not entirely clear if the author intended the first type of interpretation above or the second type. A lack of further context also means we can't tell from text outside of the sentence itself. But your revised sentence makes the second interpretation explicit, rejecting the first.

Without further context, it's not possible to say what the author's intended meaning was in the original sentence. However, I see no obvious reason to think that the part of the original sentence that you turned into a second sentence wasn't specifically used to qualify and specify the exact nature of the studies—something that is lost if you cut it off.

The first rule of editing (similar to that of physicians) is do no harm. If you make an edit that changes the meaning of something (as your edit might), that's possibly doing harm. If reviewing a manuscript, no editor should make such a change; instead, they should ask the author to clarify their meaning if it's not clear. And only once their meaning has been explained, should the ambiguous syntax be modified to follow that intended meaning. Changing the sentence as you have might be what the author had meant—but you can't assume that. It could just as easily not be what the author had meant.


To be clear, here are two edited versions of the ambiguous sentence. Each provides one of the possible interpretations:

1. Recently, some studies were made in the behaviour of mice who just become deranged when exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise.

2. Recently, some studies were made in the behaviour of mice. They showed that when exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise, these mice just became deranged.

In fact, there's actually a third interpretation that exists between the first two:

3. Recently, some studies were made in the behaviour of mice exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise. They showed that these mice just became deranged.

This interpretation is possible because of the ambiguous nature of and the mice just became deranged in the original sentence.

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Yes, you are correct. That is the intended meaning of the sentence.

Original:

Recently some studies were made in the behaviour of mice when exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise, and the mice just became deranged.

Meaning:

Recently some studies were made in the behaviour of mice. When exposed to more than a certain degree of density, frustration, and noise, the mice just became deranged.

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    Thanks, @virolino. The source of the text is from "The Menace of Urban Explosion' by Barbara Ward published in The Listener, 14 November 1963". Just have no way to check the original. – Charlie May 24 '19 at 9:46

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