DEFINITION AND TYPES OF EXAMPLE-GIVING
When we give an example, we usually start by mentioning a class – e.g. animals – and then we name one or more (but not all) of the members of that class – e.g. cats,or cats and dogs. Naming all of the class members (e.g. The two main languages of South America are Spanish and Portuguese) is not example-giving, but ordinary listing.
Some example-giving is nothing more than naming one or some class members. This is simple example-giving, the topic of an earlier post. Other example-giving, however, is more complicated: we also say something about the class member(s) we are naming, like this:
(a) AIR POLLUTANTS cause many problems. For example, SULPHUR DIOXIDE leads to acid rain.
Here, sulphur dioxide is a named member of the class of air pollutants, while leads to acid rain is something said about it. This kind of extended example-giving is what I call complex example-giving, the topic of the present post.
HOW TO GIVE A COMPLEX EXAMPLE
Unlike with simple examples, complex examples allow no choice about the sentence where the class member is named: it must be different from the sentence giving the name of the class, as in (a) above. We may use for example, but we do not have to: for instance is another possibility, or we may not use any example words at all. In research that I conducted in 19851, I found that around 30% of exemplifications had no example words. In such cases, the meaning of exemplification is understandable just from the positioning of the example sentence after the one containing the class name. The ability of sentence positioning to communicate meanings like exemplification is discussed in more detail in my post on sentence links.
COMMON ERRORS IN COMPLEX EXAMPLE-GIVING
Error 1: Incorrect Punctuation with “For Example” & ”For Instance”
A major problem with these two expressions is that they are also used with simple examples given in the same sentence as the general class, but with different punctuation. Compare:
(b) (Simple without a new sentence)Many academic subjects are influenced by ancient Greek thinkers, for example Philosophy.
(c) (Complex) Many academic subjects are influenced by ancient Greek thinkers. For example, Philosophy is influenced by Aristotle.
In the simple example, the punctuation is comma directly before for example and nothing after, whereas in the complex one it is full stop before and comma directly after. Confusing these two possibilities is easily done.
Error 2: Placing the Class Member in the Same Sentence as the Class Name.
There are two common ways of wrongly placing the class member in the same sentence as the class name:
(d) (The class member joined by “which” to the information about it) *Many problems result from the use of air pollutants, for example sulphur dioxide, which leads to acid rain.
. I recommend always trying to write a sentence like (a) above instead.
(e) (The information about the class member isolated in a new sentence) *Many problems result from the use of air pollutants, for example sulphur dioxide. It leads to acid rain.
Error 3: Using “For Example” and “For Instance” in a Sentence without a Verb
This usually happens when the class member and the information about it are each given in a separate sentence, like this:
(f) *Air pollutants cause many problems. For example sulphur dioxide. It leads to acid rain.
Although it is possible to separate the class member and the information about it into separate sentences (see below), this cannot be done with for example and for instance. Beware also of simply changing the full stop after sulphur dioxide into a comma. The problem then is the word it, since formal written English rarely repeats a noun with an immediately-following pronoun:
(g) *Many problems result from the use of air pollutants. For example sulphur dioxide, it leads to acid rain.
The correct way to give the example is without both the full stop and it.
“TAKE” AND “CONSIDER”
These two verbs can be used instead of for example/for instance in complex example giving. However, the way they are used is not the same:
(g) Air pollutants cause many problems. TAKE/CONSIDER sulphur dioxide. This leads to acid rain.
Here, the complex example is broken into two sentences, the first containing the class member and the second giving the information about it. This kind of division does not lead to a sentence without a verb, as it does with for example/for instance (see [f] above), because take and consider are themselves verbs. Note that the pronoun in the third sentence is this and not it. The reason is that the noun it stands for (sulphur dioxide) is the object of its verb (take/consider), not the subject (see 28. Pronoun Errors for more on using this).
The verbs take and consider can only be used with complex examples. However, they can be replaced by some other example-giving expressions that are not unique to complex examples, though this is rare. These other expressions are those that can also show a simple example in a new sentence: one is and is a case in point:
(h) Air pollutants cause many problems. Sulphur dioxide IS A CASE IN POINT. It leads to acid rain.
Note that the pronoun in the third sentence here is it instead of this, reflecting the fact that the preceding example is now the subject of its sentence.
Here is a task that might help all of the above points to be better understood and remembered.
TASK: Find examples below that should be in a new sentence. Identify the verb in each new-sentence example (answers below).
1. Many countries besides Spain are Spanish-speaking for example Venezuela.
2. Some numbers below 25 can be exactly divided by at least five other numbers for instance 12 can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.
3. Essay writing involves particular skills for example grouping and sequencing points in a logical way.
4. There are numerous requirements for giving a successful oral presentation for example using signpost language promotes audience attention.
5. Building more roads is desirable for various reasons for instance it can reduce accidents.
6. Languages can be learned with the help of special books for example dictionaries, which assist vocabulary acquisition.
7. Nature is an influential source of technological innovation consider the wings of birds these have facilitated aircraft design.
ANSWERS: The new-sentence example giving should be in nos. 2 (can be divided), 4 (promotes), 5 (can reduce) and 7 (consider and have facilitated = two example sentences). Note that verbs ending with –ing (e.g. grouping in 3) do not by themselves require a new sentence.
1FANNING, P. (1985) Exemplification in Academic Textbooks (MPhil Dissertation). Reading (England): University of Reading.