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I am writing my thesis in computer science. Due to technical issues, many sentences are very long, and contain more than one conjunction (especially which).

I have one concrete example of a complex sentence:

  1. The intrinsic parameters of the camera, from which the video was taken, are not supposed to be available.

  2. The intrinsic parameters of the camera are not supposed to be available, from which the video was taken.

I am wondering which of the above examples is correct. I feel that both are not. Any hints as to how to avoid this kind of long sentences with keeping the complete meaning of the sentence.

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  • "Where is not a conjunction. Jul 9, 2017 at 12:04

1 Answer 1

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The main issue with the two sample sentences is identifying what/where the video was taken from (i.e. the video's source).

  1. The intrinsic parameters of the camera, from which the video was taken, are not supposed to be available.

In your first example, the parenthetical expression "from which the video was taken" comes after the noun phrase "The intrinsic parameters of the camera", which ends with a noun (camera). Without the commas, it would be natural to take the camera as the video's source. However, the commas make the head of the noun phrase (i.e. the parameters) look like a strong candidate as the video's source.

Simply removing the commas avoids this to a large degree by making the parameters refer to the noun phrase 'the camera from which the video was taken':

  • The intrinsic parameters of the camera from which the video was taken are not supposed to be available.
  1. The intrinsic parameters of the camera are not supposed to be available, from which the video was taken.

In your second example, the portion after the comma dangles without a natural reference. A noun phrase (or simple noun) would be a natural reference, but "The intrinsic parameters ... are not supposed to be available" isn't a noun phrase. While there may be poetic or other literary works that use a similar phrasing, I'd suggest rewriting this instance for clarity.

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  • Thank you for your detailed answer. However, this sort of long sentences are very problematic in computer science. More specifically, almost every technical word must be described, which makes the sentence very long. One approach is to use many nonconnected sentences, but the style of the paragraph becomes strange. I want to keep a nice style with a high-level technical description.
    – John
    Jul 9, 2017 at 14:12
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    @John You're welcome. My background includes research in CS, so I have some appreciation for this dilemma. Sometimes, it helps to look at the larger chunk (e.g. the paragraph or even section), and ask yourself how you might make things clearer at that level of granularity. The bulleted suggestion I made addresses the English of your first example, but a deeper issue is whether you should be talking about "not supposed to be", or perhaps to whom (or for what reason) those parameters should be inaccessible. Happy editing! :)
    – Lawrence
    Jul 9, 2017 at 14:24

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