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Re: On the use of preposition "of" in chemical texts

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  • Dusan Papousek
    I would like to ask especially the native English listmates for help in the following matter. Please read the following two sentences: An unknown compound
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 4, 2002
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      I would like to ask especially the native English listmates for help in the following matter. Please read the following two sentences:

      "An unknown compound decomposes to produce 0.800 g of solid sulfur and 0.560 of hydrogen gas." (I)

      "When 10.3 g of a particular sample of freon is decomposed, it produces 2.24 dm^3 chlorine gas, 1.12 dm^3 hydrogen gas, and 1.12 dm^3 fluorine gas". (II)

      Both sentences are in a textbook of chemistry for US high schools.

      In my opinion, both sentences actually describe the same from the point of view of chemistry and grammar. However, in (I) there is "0.800 g O F solid sulfur" and "0.560 O F hydrogen gas", while in (II) there is " 2.24 dm^3 chlorine gas" and " 1.12 dm^3 hydrogen gas", etc.

      What's the difference between these two sentences from the point of view of using the "of" preposition? Is it really the same if one says "Weigh 1 kg of gold" or "Weigh 1 kg gold?"

      Thanks to all who will help me to understand.

      D.P.



      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Michael Trittipo
      Message 2 of 3 , Nov 4, 2002
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        << What's the difference between these two sentences from the point of
        view of using the "of" preposition? Is it really the same if one says
        "Weigh 1 kg of gold" or "Weigh 1 kg gold?" >>

        IMO (only my opinion), the difference is that the second sentence would
        have been less subject to possible criticism had it used the "of." My
        guess would be that it would also be stylistically more consistent with
        the majority of uses in the textbook. As you have the entire textbook,
        you could quickly see whether it has a majority and minority usage. My
        guess would be that you'd find 5 to 10 times as many like the former as
        you would find like the latter.

        The sentence without "of" doesn't shock -- at least not in this limited
        "set problem" context where shorthand is common and there's a list of
        three elements in parallel format, that could be put into a table -- but
        it's better practice to put the "of" in -- and my guess (without a
        behavioral study in reading to back it up) is that most readers, well,
        at least many readers, would put the "of" in when reading aloud. The
        language for setting textbook problems is perhaps a bit specialized.

        So it's "really the same" in terms of referent and meaning; but it's not
        "really the same" in terms of preferred style (IMO), and I'd hesitate to
        draw any lessons about linguistic use outside the limited domain of
        textbook chemistry or physics and cookbook recipes. No editor whom I
        know would ever criticize the first sentence and make the writer take
        out the "of"; many editors might well criticize the second and make the
        writer add the "of" (though other editors might shrug), at least in this
        specific context of a chemistry text, and multiple products being listed
        in what can be felt as a kind of mini-table without the tabular layout.

        A Google search finds the following numbers, which may be a rough guide
        to proportional use:
        "grams chlorine" 9
        "grams of chlorine" 247
        "grams hydrogen" 53
        "grams of hydrogen" 808
        "milligrams gold" 47
        "milligrams of gold" 211
        "milliliters water" 137
        "milliliters of water" 1980
        These rough indicators might be further refined after examination of
        their contexts and sources; but at a first glance they seem reasonable
        enough.

        Not sure whether this is the kind of comment you were looking for. I
        guess I'd sum up by saying "not really different" in terms of how you
        should put them into Czech (i.e., there's no subtle meaning difference
        to be reflected); but that "of" is better (at least in the sense of
        being unexceptional) if you want to know how you'd be best advised to go
        in the other direction, Cz>Eng, in case that ever arises.
      • Simon Vollam
        Hi Dusan, ... Well, it s seven years since I last worked as a chemist (apart from the occasional chemical translating job), but I would say that the of is
        Message 3 of 3 , Nov 4, 2002
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          Hi Dusan,

          > "An unknown compound decomposes to produce 0.800 g of solid
          > sulfur and 0.560 of hydrogen gas." (I)
          >
          > "When 10.3 g of a particular sample of freon is decomposed, it
          > produces 2.24 dm^3 chlorine gas, 1.12 dm^3 hydrogen gas, and 1.12
          > dm^3 fluorine gas". (II)
          >
          > What's the difference between these two sentences from the point
          > of view of using the "of" preposition? Is it really the same if
          > one says "Weigh 1 kg of gold" or "Weigh 1 kg gold?"

          Well, it's seven years since I last worked as a chemist (apart from the
          occasional chemical translating job), but I would say that the 'of' is
          optional in this context, that there is no difference in the meaning, and
          that both options are widely used. Purists might say that sentence I is more
          grammatical, whereas pragmatists might prefer sentence II (especially if you
          have a list of several compounds - on the grounds of ellipsis). I also have
          a feeling that preferences might differ in BrE and AmE, for example. I'm
          British, and sentence I sounds a little more natural to me. But maybe the
          Americans (and others) on the list have a different opinion.

          Simon
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