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How would you explain the differences between using "for example" and "just to name a few" in the following multiple choice:

Your smartphone might give you a wake up call, send you emails, help you to order a high-speed rail ticket and to book a hotel room for the weekend conference, _.*
(A) just to name a few
(B) for example

I'd certainly choose (A), but I don't think I can adequately explain to my students their difference, except perhaps that for example seems to rarely follow such a long list of items containing phrases.

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I can find exceptions, as in: There are some types of music I don't like. Rap and heavy metal, for example. –  Andy Cheng May 2 '13 at 8:57
    
What kind of test are you taking? Looks quite high-level –  mplungjan May 2 '13 at 9:51
    
I'm teaching English in a high school in Taiwan. It's pretty commom we come across some tricky questions like this once in a while. –  Andy Cheng May 3 '13 at 2:59

1 Answer 1

For example is the correct answer for that multiple choice question. Just to name a few is wrong because the phrase a few, which functions as a pronoun because it replaces the missing phrase has many functions, refers to nothing. The full sentence would be something like this:

Your smartphone, which has many functions, might give you a wake up call, send you emails, and help you order a high-speed rail ticket or book a hotel room for a weekend conference, just to name a few.

Without the relative clause, the answer has to be for example:

[Your smartphone can do many things. {Implied but not stated.}] Your smartphone might give you a wake up call, send you emails, and help you order a high-speed rail ticket or book a hotel room for a weekend conference, for example.

Because the first sentence is only implied, just to name a few is semantically incorrect.

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Well spotted. +1 –  mplungjan May 2 '13 at 9:50
    
Thanks, Bill. But can't it be that "a few" here loosely refers to the list of things that precedes it? And semantically they're the "functions," aren't they? –  Andy Cheng May 3 '13 at 3:06
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@AndyC: Yes, of course "a few" refers to those functions, but this is a question of syntax as well as semantics. Because the semantics don't support the use of that pronoun because there's no referent, there can be no pronoun. The point is not that the sentence can't be understood once the reader thinks about it a bit, but that when writing, one does not want to create discourse that forces the reader to make unnecessary inferences or to have to stop reading and think about awkward syntax. –  user21497 May 3 '13 at 3:53
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This is quite different from poetry & Finnegans Wake, which demand that you read slowly, reread, reread, & reread, & then think hard about what you've read. Most language is used to communicate as clearly as possible, except, of course, where the writers & speakers are interested in bamboozling the audience: politicians, confidence men, advertisers, & liars or other types. Your sentence is standard expository prose & shouldn't prompt the reader or listener to ask "'To name a few' what?" –  user21497 May 3 '13 at 3:58

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