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In this translated sentence, water is supposed to be emphasized in contradistinction to the sand in an hourglass/sand clock:

Like an hourglass, the device is made of glass and metal, except that in this one the water flows from one vessel into another.

The supposed [i.e. from the context as well as the wording of the original text] meaning is in this one, it is water, not sand.

Is this meaning grammatically and semantically clear from the quote, or should it rather say something like »in this one, water flows from one vessel into another« or »in this one, it is water which flows from one vessel into another«?

Being not a native speaker of English, my feeling says that in the quoted sentence the emphasis (i.e. purely syntactical without any semantic context) would rather be on »from one vessel into another«.

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    You could omit water completely to avoid confusion: "Like an hourglass, the device is made of glass and metal, but in this one the material flows from one vessel into another" – Othya Jun 23 '15 at 13:39
  • @Othya, the emphasis is supposed to be on water. Wouldn't the omission of »water« make little sense since the resulting emphasis would be on »from one vessel into another« while this is true of both cases, the hourglass and the device in question? – huh Jun 23 '15 at 14:03
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    my apologies, I thought you wanted the emphasis to lie on the fact that it's moving from one vessel into another. – Othya Jun 23 '15 at 14:04
  • @Othya thanks anyway, your remark made me realize that there could also be a contradistinctive emphasis regarding »from one vessel into another«. – huh Jun 23 '15 at 14:13
  • @huh You probably want to wait at least a day or two before selecting your answer. You may get some much better ones! But people will tend not to post answers to questions that already have a selected answer :) – Araucaria Jun 23 '15 at 16:02
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I didn't have any trouble figuring out that you were talking about a clepsydra. The antecedent to the word "one" has to be "device," since the other singular candidates "glass" and "metal" (as construction materials) aren't countable. This is nicely emphasized by "like" and "except"

I would drop the definite article in front of water: "water flows" instead of "the water flows." This is your definition, and you haven't established that water is the moving substance until the end of the sentence. After you have, you may say something like: "The user pours the water into the top vessel."

  • Yes, the original text is about clepsydrae. Water clocks are mentioned before, so the article should be ok in this regard, I think (but thanks for pointing that out). Your answer and @Othya's comment made me realize that »from one vessel into another« might be a sensible candidate for emphasis, too (i.e. that the upper and lower parts of an hourglass might not be considered separate vessels and that actually both water and from one vessel into another might describe differences between hourglasses and clepsydrea). I still take it that omission of the article would be stylistically better. – huh Jun 23 '15 at 14:37
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It is hard to contrast one item with another in this way unless a) we explicitly mention the original item that the new one is being contrasted with or, b), we use intonation. Unfortunately, there is no explicit intonation in writing unless we wish to use orthographic devices such as italics:

Like an hourglass, the device is made of glass and metal, except that in this one, water flows from one vessel into another.

The above should work perfectly well. However, we may well feel that the rampant use of italics is not very good style for our particular medium and opt for a different method. Another problem with trying to give contrastive emphasis to water in this sentence is that it occurs right at the beginning of a clause. There are a number of grammatical devices that we can use to help us here. One of the most useful is what is often known as an it-cleft (not to be confused with an extraposition). This is normally used as a focussing device. This construction makes the word or phrase being focussed on the head word of the complement phrase. This is then modified by a relative clause which details the further information. In the Original Posters case the larger clause would look like this:

  • It is water which flows from one vessel to another.

If we reinsert this into the Original Poster's sentence we get:

Like an hourglass, the device is made of glass and metal, except that in this one, it is water which flows from one vessel into another.

This is one of the Original Poster's solutions. This construction does put the emphasis on the water and not so much on the flowing from one vessel to another. Part of the reason for this is that the flowing from one vessel to another is seen as already familiar information. It has the status of old (and therefore de-emphasised) information in the discourse.

Of course if you're happy to use italics, you could use an it-cleft and italics together:

Like an hourglass, the device is made of glass and metal, except that in this case, it is water which flows from one vessel into another.

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