A sentence that can be understood in 2 ways

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SEA91

Senior Member
Bahasa Malaysia
Hello.
I am confused with this sentence:

In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography, phase transitions, and the optimization of this family of materials.

Now, there are 2 ways of reading this, as I can see but I don't know which one is the right one. Help me, please.
First way:
understanding the crystallography of this family of materials, understanding the phase transitions of this family of materials, and understanding the optimization of this family of materials

2nd way:
[understanding the crystallography and phase transitions] and [the optimization of this family of materials].
 
  • Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    The difference you point out does not substantially change the meaning of the sentence. Effort spent understanding optimization of materials, and effort spent optimizing the materials, are not really different from each other. So the author probably did not find a need to make it clearer.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    First way: In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the 1) crystallography, 2)phase transitions, and 3)the optimization of this family of materials.
    There the list of 1), 2) , and 3) are all objects of understanding.

    Second way:In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to 1)understanding the crystallography and phase transitions, and 2)the optimization of this family of materials.
    1) and 2) are objects of devoted to and you need an extra and.

    The lack of the second and is the clue to the intent here, structurally anyway:D
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I think the writer could have used more care in writing the sentence.
    I could say "...understanding the A, the B, and the C of this family of materials",
    and then we could wonder whether all three, or just C, belonged to this family.
    Or I could say "...understanding the A, B, and C of this family", and I would understand all three to belong to the family.
    But if I were writing carefully, I would not say "the A, B, and the C".
    In reading this, I would pause and ask myself if B is in apposition to A, rather than in a series with it.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] Second way:In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to 1)understanding the crystallography and phase transitions, and 2)the optimization of this family of materials.
    1) and 2) are objects of devoted to and you need an extra and. [...]
    If the second way were intended, it would be even clearer with an extra 'to' as well:

    - In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography and phase transitions, and to the optimization of this family of materials.

    In fact, a parallel structure would be even better (using optimizing to match understanding):

    - In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography and phase transitions, and to optimizing this family of materials.

    The fact that your sentence, SEA91, doesn't have the extra 'and', doesn't have the extra 'to', and has 'optimization' as a noun (matching crystallography and phase transitions), suggests to me that it should be read in the first way you mentioned. Though in that case I agree with Cenzontle's point: it would be better as "... understanding the crystallography, phase transitions and optimization of this family of materials".

    Ws
    :)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    If the second way were intended, it would be even clearer with an extra 'to' as well:

    - In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography and phase transitions, and to the optimization of this family of materials.

    In fact, a parallel structure would be even better (using optimizing to match understanding):

    - In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography and phase transitions, and to optimizing this family of materials.
    Ws:)
    :thumbsup:

    Even clearer (at least for unambiguous interpretation) would be

    - In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography and phase transitions of, and to optimizing, this family of materials.

    "The crystallography and phase transitions of this family of materials" are what are being understood, and effort was devoted to that and the optimization of (the desirable properties of ) this family of materials.

    Original sentence can be found here...IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine ...> Volume:26 Issue:1, pp20-25 2010 (pdf here)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Even clearer (at least for unambiguous interpretation) would be

    - In the following decades, a great deal of effort was devoted to understanding the crystallography and phase transitions of, and to optimizing, this family of materials.

    "The crystallography and phase transitions of this family of materials" are what are being understood, and effort was devoted to that and the optimization of (the desirable properties of ) this family of materials. [...]
    :thumbsup: Agreed. It's clear from the source article (well found, JS) that the crystallography and phase transitions do relate to "this family of materials", though that wasn't obvious in the isolated sentence as originally quoted.

    (It always helps to quote the source, SEA91, and if possible link to it).

    So in fact there's a third way of reading it, and it appears to be the right one.

    Ws:)
     

    SEA91

    Senior Member
    Bahasa Malaysia
    :thumbsup: Agreed. It's clear from the source article (well found, JS) that the crystallography and phase transitions do relate to "this family of materials", though that wasn't obvious in the isolated sentence as originally quoted.

    (It always helps to quote the source, SEA91, and if possible link to it).

    So in fact there's a third way of reading it, and it appears to be the right one.

    Ws:)
    Wow, this sentence was quite vague, wasn't it? Thank you everyone for helping me understand this clearly.
     
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