Complex example-giving is naming a random member of an already-mentioned general class and adding information about it
DEFINITION AND TYPES OF EXAMPLE-GIVING
Example-giving is naming one or more – but not all – of the members of a general class. These class members must not have been chosen because they are special in any way; their choice must be random. They normally have to accompany the name of the class. For instance, cats or cats and dogs given as examples might be found near the class name animals.
Example-giving is not the only way to talk about a general idea – see, for example, 55. Sentence Lists 2: Main-Message, 117. Saying More Precisely What is Meant and 162. Writing about Categories. However, what distinguishes example-giving from all of these is its non-mention of some class members and the randomness of their choosing.
When we randomly name one or some of the members of a class, we may or may not say something about them. Adding this extra information is what I mean by “complex” example-giving. Here is an example:
(a) Many animal groups have died out in the past. Dinosaurs, for example, disappeared 60 million years ago.
Here, dinosaurs is a member of the class animal groups (that have died out), while 60 million years ago is something said about them (a more specific equivalent of the past). This post is about the language that is typically associated with complex example-giving. Language choices in the more basic kind of example-giving are considered in the post 1. Simple Example-Giving. For some ideas about why we give examples, see 96. Hedging 2: Lists and Predictions.
HOW TO GIVE A COMPLEX EXAMPLE
Unlike simple examples, complex examples do not allow much choice about the sentence where the class member is named: it is usually different from the sentence naming the class, as in (a) above. Often this new sentence is introduced with example-showing words, but not always: in research that I conducted in 19851, I found that around 30% of new-sentence exemplification had no example-showing language. 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 the post 18. Relations Between Sentences.
The example-showing language most commonly associated with complex example-giving is for example or for instance. Used like this, they are acting as connectors, like therefore and however (see 40. Conjunctions versus Connectors). Other words that can show complex examples are take, consider and imagine (see below), as well as most of the words that can also show simple examples. For more about how these latter can be used in complex example-giving, see 112. Synonyms of Connectors.
Because for example and for instance are connectors, they are usually found with a comma after them, and their position is flexible. These are very different features from those that they have in simple example-giving, where they are more like prepositions (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions). Note in particular that, while the connector use of for example (with complex examples) normally has a comma or full stop after it (as well as one before), the preposition use (with simple examples) generally has just a comma before.
COMMON ERRORS IN COMPLEX EXAMPLE-GIVING
The following are the main pitfalls to avoid.
Error 1: Incorrect Comma Use with “For Example” & ”For Instance”
It is easy to confuse the two different uses – connector and preposition – of these two expressions. As explained in the last section, complex example-giving needs the connector use (full stop/comma before and after).
Error 2: Everything Said in One Sentence
Two forms of this error are:
(b) *Many environmental problems result from the use of air pollutants, for example acid rain is caused by sulphur dioxide.
(c) *Many environmental problems result from the use of air pollutants, for example sulphur dioxide, which causes acid rain.
The first of these is incorrect because it breaks the full stop rule of “new verb, new sentence”. The new verb (is caused) can only stay in the same sentence as the old one (result) if there is also a joining device (see 30. When to Write a Full Stop). There is no joining device in (b): the words for example are a connector, not a joining device.
Sentence (c) is grammatically correct (the joining device is which) but not recommended because its form is very rare: writers of formal English prefer to give complex examples in a new sentence.
Error 3: “For Example”/“For Instance” in a Sentence without a Verb
It is possible to give the class member and the information about it in separate new sentences (see below), but not with for example or for instance, because they would then produce a sentence without a verb, like this:
(d) *Air pollutants cause many problems. For example sulphur dioxide. It leads to acid rain.
Error 4: Repetition of the Class Name with “it”
Sentence (d) cannot be corrected by simply changing the full stop after sulphur dioxide into a comma. The problem then is the repetition with it. Although conversational English allows this sort of pronoun repetition, formal written English does not (see 24. Good & Bad Repetition).
“TAKE”, “CONSIDER” AND “IMAGINE”
Take and consider can be used instead of for example/for instance in complex example giving, but in a different way:
(e) 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 (used in the “imperative” form – see 128. Imperative Verbs in Formal Writing).
Note how the class member is the object of the verb. When it is a simple noun phrase like sulphur dioxide above, either of the two verbs is usable. However, noun phrases beginning with a question word, such as how a writer might want to show disagreement, seem more likely to need consider.
Note also that the pronoun in the third sentence in (e) 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).
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: an example is, 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.
Imagine is different from the other two verbs in that it is normally followed by that and a full statement, like this:
(i) Driving at high speed is sometimes necessary. Imagine that you are on a fast road…
This use is similar to that of take and consider in that the example-giving is multi-sentence: the information in the second sentence is only the start of an example and would leave the reader confused if not added to with more sentences. Now here is an exercise that might help some of the above points to be better understood and remembered.
EXERCISE (COMPLEX EXAMPLES): 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.