Sentence structure — example solutions

Example solutions to the exercises on Sentence structure

Here are a few sentences that can be substantially improved by considering the old & new info and the sentence topic & stress position. (Topic positionstress position are marked.)

Exercise 1

First sentence from an Abstract (source):

As one of the most unique properties of nerve cells, their intrinsic excitability allows them to transform synaptic inputs into action potentials.

Example solution

  • Topic of this sentence is too distant to the stress of the sentence: the topic is rather general, announcing some unique property of nerve cells, but the stress position is not concerned with this unique property (intrinsic excitability) but already with a consequence of this unique property (the transformation of synaptic inputs into action potentials).
  • The important concept of intrinsic excitability is mentioned in the middle of the sentence without any emphasis.
  • This is a very unfavorable construct that makes the sentence hard to follow.
  • Compare the original to this revision:

One of the most unique properties of nerve cells is their extrinsic excitability, which allows them to transform synaptic inputs into action potentials.

  • The revised version is a compound sentence with two stress positions, which enables us to introduce both relevant concepts: extrinsic excitability as well as the transformation of synaptic inputs into action potentials.
  • The revised sentence is just one word longer than the original, but its comprehensibility is greatly improved.


Exercise 2

First sentence from a Discussion (source):

The model-free approaches to control of neural systems presented here suggest that deep reinforcement learning has potential for application to this area.

Example solution

  • As I read the sentence, I felt I can follow well — up to the last words “application to this area”. Which area? I had to go back and re-read the sentence several times to figure out what the authors refer to (“this area”=”control of neural systems”).
  • In a compound sentence, the greatest emphasis is placed at the very end, at the last stress position. So it is not a good idea to end a sentence with such an unclear reference.
  • Consider the revision:

The present study demonstrated that model-free reinforcement learning has a potential for application in the area of neural systems control.

  • Removing the vague reference greatly improves the clarity of the sentence.
  • Moreover, the first part of the sentence (“The present study demonstrated”) acts as context for the second part of the context where the main information is contained. So this compound sentence also has a kind of higher-order topic–stress structure, which makes it even easier to follow & understand.


Exercise 3: Your sentence(s)

Do you have a sentence that does not work and you are struggling to improve it? Share it in the comments, so we can help you & practice at the same time!

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