Mistake in the Cambridge CPE textbook?


I stumbled over the following sentence from the first pages of a CPE textbook:

“It is more probably that since in our work, we are always striving to get the greatest possible effect, the essential spontaneity of a letter escapes us.”


The sentence feels wrong to me. Not only is it stylistically cumbersome (horrible?), but the use of grammar and punctuation raises some questions.


1. Is it even possible to use the construct: “It is more probably that…”? “More probable” seems to be the only correct choice here.


2. The first comma can’t be used here at all, because it breaks the subordinate clause in two without any legitimate reason, violating the semantic flow of the sentence.


I would rewrite the sentence like this (preserving most of the original structure):


“It is more probable that — since in our work we are always striving to get the greatest possible effect — the essential spontaneity of a letter escapes us.”


or like this:


“It is, more probably, that since in our work we are always striving to get the greatest possible effect, the essential spontaneity of a letter escapes us.”


Am I correct in my doubts or should I trust the Cambridge authority in this matter?


The sentence is from this book:


Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English 1 Student's Book: Examination Papers from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 4-5)


Preview available at Google Books.


Thank you,

a Russian ESL student



Here is the context:

"Journalists like myself are usually poor letter-writers. I have heard it said that this is because of the instinctive distaste we feel at writing something we are not going to be paid for, but I cannot believe we have quite such mercenary characters. It is more probably that since […]."

CPE mistakes textbook edited Mar 31 '13 at 23:16 David Simons Contributor

Patty and Jeff, thank you for the answers! I thought I was going nuts. It feels audacious for me, an ESL student, to challenge the top textbooks that are supposed to grade my skills, but I couldn't get past this sentence even with my meager knowledge of English. I dumped the book and got a newer edition. Maybe Cambridge changed their editors. :)

David SimonsMar 31 '13 at 23:09

For some reason I can't select the most helpful answer. Nothing happens after I click on the tick.

David SimonsApr 01 '13 at 10:35

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Regarding the use of the adverb form probably -- agreed. This wants to be the adjective probable.


Regarding the first comma -- agreed. I believe the writer (and editor) is confused by the includsion of "in our work."If this phrase stood alone -- without since -- you would want a comma. Delete the phrase and just use since and you can see why no comma is needed.


Jusst because the author is British and Cambridge is the publisher is no reason o assume that the grammar is flawless. The New Yorker magaine, which has a reputation for being tightly and conservatively edited was recently forced to admit that its editors are human too and let slip several errors.

link comment answered Mar 31 '13 at 22:09 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

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