Technology encourages networks and a lack of boundaries that make operating in hierarchies problematic and challenges traditional ways of doing and managing work.

Q1. I think I could change the word order of the sentence as 'makes operating problematic in hierarchies'. Is there any significant difference in meaning?

Q2. And could I change the word order of the sentence as 'makes problematic operating in hierarchies'? As the sentence like 'The appearance of language made possible the kind of social existance which we take for granted.' is.

Sorry for my poor English. Thank you in advance!

  • Note that we say change X to Y, not change X as Y. May 20, 2016 at 11:44
  • It is difficult to follow this sentence because of its compound objects and subjects: "networks and a lack of boundaries". They are encouraged by technology. They "make operating in hierarchies problematic" and they "challenge" traditional ways of doing things.
    – TimR
    May 20, 2016 at 12:50

5 Answers 5


(1) X makes operating in hierarchies problematic ...
(2) X makes operating problematic in hierarchies ...
(3) X makes problematic operating in hierarchies ...

All of these are grammatically acceptable.

(1) and (3) have the same meaning: that X causes the Direct Object (operating in hierarchies) to be Object Complement (problematic). The inversion in (3) of the DO and the OC is allowed when the DO is so 'heavy' (has so many words) that postponing the OC makes its role difficult to discern. In this particular case the DO is not to my ear so heavy that this is necessary, so (3) feels awkward to me. But it's quite appropriate in your other example, made possible [the kind of social existence which we take for granted].

(2), however, means something different. Separating the locative phrase in hierarchies from the noun it modifies, operating, causes the locative to be parsed as a clausal modifier: In hierarchies, X causes operating to be problematic. Where (1) and (3) speak about specifically hierarchical operations in any organization, (2) speaks about all operations in hierarchical organizations.


The structure of the first part of the sentence makes it difficult to construct a clear middle part. Better to change the first part than struggle with the middle part.

Technology encourages networks, removes boundaries, makes operating in hierarchies problematic and challenges traditional ways of doing and managing work.


Q1) As it sounds to me, when using 'make', it treats each of the two items listed before (encourages networks; encourages lack of social boundaries) as independent concepts, meaning one doesn't require the other to validate the remainder of the sentence.

  • Technology encourages networks that make operating in hierarchies problematic and challenges traditional ways of doing and managing work.
  • Technology encourages a lack of boundaries that make operating in hierarchies problematic and challenges traditional ways of doing and managing work.

When using 'makes', it seems more as though the combination of the two is what makes the final argument true.

Q2) As for this one, I see what you mean, and while the answer is yes, it's important to consider which is the better option. To begin, if I were to make that same modification, I'd also put it as: "...that makes for problematic operations in hierarchies." What comes to mind is the manner in which the sentence will be delivered. If it's spoken, like a line of dialogue in a film, then your alternative structure is fine, so long as the person voicing the line does so appropriately, maybe with subtle annunciations to reflect the atypical format and to clue the listener in to where each fragment of the ordinarily-expected sentence could be identified. Otherwise, and especially in writing, it's really a matter of intuition: if a sentence feels right (doesn't require rereads; has a flow to it; is read easily; is interpreted both easily and correctly; entertains the reader rather than irritates them; etc.), then by all means get creative. I've gotten heartfelt thanks from Professors who appreciated a novel twist I'd added in my schoolwork when otherwise the students had adhered to a more bland and literal approach. It's just my opinion, it's acceptable -- so long as it's done right.


I think the statement about "lack of boundaries" is vague, but here's how I understand the gist of your statement.

Traditional management structures are hierarchical.
Hierarchies rely upon well-defined "boundaries" (chain-of-command?)
Technology encourages networks.
Networks are "lateral" not "top-down" and thus threaten chain-of-command.
Technology thus poses challenges for traditional hierarchical organization.

Where to begin a sentence that expresses these ideas coherently?

The status quo is usually a good place to begin.

Traditional hierarchical management structures, which rely upon well-defined boundaries, are challenged by technology, as it encourages networks which tend to circumvent boundaries.


... lack of boundaries that make operating in hierarchies problematic ...


... lack of boundaries that make operating problematic in hierarchies ...

Not too much difference in meaning.

The first sentence slightly implies that whatever is operating began with the need for a hierarchy. This is the better way to say it given the sentence because the text seems to be talking about workforces with traditional management structure.

Whereas the second sentence is slightly implying something like "if hierarchies form, then lack of boundaries will be a problem" or that you were observing a number of operations and noticed that those with lack of boundaries + hierarchies have problems.

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