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I'm not native, but feel that the following text proposed by my collaborator

The elements of Pluto are of interest, among other reasons, because Pluto has a large eccentricity, Pluto has a large inclination, and Pluto’s orbit crosses with Neptune’s.

is a bit repetitive and can be improved as

The elements of Pluto are of interest, among other reasons, because it has a large eccentricity, large inclination, and crosses Neptune’s orbit.

However, my collaborator (an American) argues my change has incorrect grammar and that his original is completely acceptable and fully in line with recommended writing style (he mentions Strunk & White 'Elements of Style').

Is this really so (both incorrect grammar and repetition good style)?


Edit 1 elements refers to the orbital elements and is perfectly clear in the context of this sentence. I didn't ask about this.


Edit 2 What about changing it to Pluto in my 'improvement' (my actual text communicated to my co-author)? Would that still be grammatical?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Mitch, user66974, user140086, Misti Dec 13 '16 at 17:06

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    At the very, very, least, try to convince him to replace the last three occurrences of Pluto with it. – Peter Shor Dec 12 '16 at 18:18
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    @FumbleFingers It is referring to "orbital elements", a set of numbers that allow you to calculate the orbit of any astronomical body. – Mick Dec 12 '16 at 18:34
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    You should also try to convince him to stop relying on Strunk & White, which is generally a very poor guide to style. His original here is indeed repetitive and inelegant. Yours is ungrammatical because it contains a list of three things that are not commutable: [has a large eccentricity], [crosses Neptune’s orbit], and [large inclination]. It’s fine if you reduce it to two, though: [has a large eccentricity and inclination] and [crosses Neptune’s orbit]. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 12 '16 at 18:36
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    Your collaborator is correct. The antecedent for the it would be elements, which is plural. It isn't the orbital elements that cross Neptune's orbit, it's Pluto. And repeating it emphasizes Pluto. Which is appropriate in an introduction to something as dry as orbital elements. – John Lawler Dec 12 '16 at 18:36
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    @John That can be solved by just replacing it with Pluto the once. The original reads like an exercise in extracting antecedents: My brother likes my brother’s tea the way my brother likes my brother’s women: tepid, lemony, and repetitive. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 12 '16 at 18:44
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I'll go FumbleFingers one further and argue that you need to rid yourself of elements altogether. You're really talking about the ex-planet's orbit:

Pluto's orbit is interesting because of its large eccentricity, large inclination, and the fact that it crosses with Neptune’s.

If you want to emphasize the fact that you're talking about Pluto, change the subject to Pluto itself and repeat as you feel necessary:

Pluto is interesting because Pluto's orbit has a large eccentricity, Pluto's orbit has a large inclination, and Pluto’s orbit crosses with Neptune’s.

I don't know why you'd do that, but it's not my paper.

Both your co-author's version and yours are grammatical, but his is odd for the stylistic repetition that seems to have no basis, and yours is jarring because the subject of your sentence is elements, which themselves don't cross Neptune's orbit.

I doubt your co-author has read Elements of Style in decades.

  • I would either include an "its" before "large inclination" in your first revised wording or change the first two entries in the parallel series to a single compound entry (as Janus Bahs Jacquet suggests above): "large orbit and large inclination." And since "large" is arguably being used in two different senses (sheer distance in the first instance and extremity of tilt out of the orbital plane in the second), I would be inclined to change the first occurrence to something like "immense" to give the two modifiers a bit of distance. But I'm copyediting now, aren't I? – Sven Yargs Dec 12 '16 at 18:56
  • @SvenYargs Well, so you are, but at least it's insightful copyediting. I appreciate that, and I recognize a fellow sufferer of the compulsion to improve a sentence. Keep up the good work. – deadrat Dec 12 '16 at 22:09
  • Thanks so far. What about my 2nd edit? – Walter Dec 13 '16 at 9:29
  • @Walter Your second edit is better because it is going to find interest as an antecedent. – deadrat Dec 13 '16 at 9:50
  • My personal preference is to avoid using the phrase "the fact that." In my opinion the phrase is over-used, and in many cases a simple "that" is sufficient to carry the meaning. So, "Pluto's orbit is interesting because of its large eccentricity, large inclination, and that it crosses with Neptune’s." I suppose one could substitute "it" with "its orbit" for slightly better clarity. So, ". . . and that its orbit crosses Neptune's." You'd be surprised, I think, how many decent authors get into the "because of the fact that" habit. Often a simple "because" is sufficient. – rhetorician Dec 13 '16 at 10:37

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