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Suppose I have the following two sentences...

The equation can be expressed in terms of the (insert complex but slightly conceptual gibberish here). More conceptually, the heavy cow moves slower than the lightweight butterfly.

Is is considered proper to begin a sentence with the phrase "More conceptually" or is there a better way to phrase this?

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Why would you think it's not "proper"? This looks like writing advice to me. – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '14 at 22:13
@FumbleFingers Because I'm no expert on the English language and I've never used this phrase in this context before. Or is the response "it sounded funny to me" reasonable enough? – LordStryker Feb 18 '14 at 22:14
More conceptually, we can use a real-world example. No, hang on - that doesn't quite work. More practically, we can use real-world examples. – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '14 at 23:56
@FumbleFingers What exactly is it that you are struggling to convey? – LordStryker Feb 19 '14 at 2:12
I was just going to cite a written instance showing that people do in fact start sentences with "More conceptually". I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "conceptual" in your context, but it seemed to me a "real-world example" probably wouldn't count as "conceptual", so I changed it to "practical". Presumably whatever you mean by "conceptual", it should be obvious to you that grammatically it can hardly be any different to "practical", so the fact that people also start sentences with "More practically" ought to convey everything pavja2's answer does (apart from the "writing advice"). – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '14 at 2:38
up vote 1 down vote accepted

There's no grammatical rule that I know of that says you can't have orphaned adverbs like this. As a general rule of thumb people tend to over use adverbs so limiting that may be desirable in a stylistic sense.

I think the bigger issue here is that the phrase "more conceptually" doesn't make sense in this context. What thing is more conceptual than what other thing? My understanding of the sentence in a literal sense is: "To understand this phenomenon at a more conceptual level [as opposed to the nuanced one above] it is useful to remember that a heavy cow will move more slowly than a lightweight butterfly."

I think that you would be better served by saying

"More simply, the heavy cow..."


"In short, the heavy cow..."

My personal preference goes to the second because fewer adverbs but that's 100% stylistic.

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There is certainly no grammatical problem. But I'd call these 'orphaned adverbs' 'pragmatic markers' (they frame the context of the matrix sentence rather than contributing directly to its meaning). 'More simply' is a 'simplifying reformulation' marker. 'More conceptually' would not be a simplifying marker, and is inappropriate here. 'To give a concrete example', the opposite, works. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 18 '14 at 22:39
How about limiting the phrase to "Simply,..."? Would this be proper? – LordStryker Feb 18 '14 at 22:59
@Edwin Ashworth Conceptual: pertaining to mental concept. (Oxford Dictionary) Is 'conceptually' a gradable adverb? Can one speak 'partly pertaining to mental concept'? – WS2 Feb 18 '14 at 23:00
@WS2: Why on earth not? I know I'm probably more tolerant than some in this area, since I have no problem treating "unique" as "gradable" in the right context. But "more conceptual" seems so ordinary to me I can't see why it should even need to be defended. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '14 at 1:49
@WS2 I'd struggle to accept a grading of 'unique', but 'more practical and less theoretical' (ie actually acting on one's beliefs) is often used. The sense broadens. 'More conceptual' is used to mean 'less practical in nature', 'more theoretical'. I'm concerned that its meaning doesn't fit here. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 19 '14 at 17:15

Following on from WS2's comment [Is 'conceptually' a gradable adverb?]: I don't really know, but it is at least confusing when it's used that way.

It'd almost always be better to describe the concept as higher level or more abstract, than to describe it as more conceptual. It's just clearer.

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We use these things loosely on occasion. We speak of a tank or glass being fuller, when of course it's either full or not full. Here, 'fuller' is short for 'more nearly full'. 'More theoretical' would mean further along the practical - - - theoretical continuum. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 19 '14 at 17:18

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