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Consider the following extract of text (content not important, only sentence structure):

When the jump is made, from seeing a subject as vocational, to worthy of study for the sake of knowledge alone, that subject can be enjoyed as beautiful and intriguing. With for example the works of the masters, subjects are beautiful. With the emergence of truly novel thinkers, intriguing in their scope.

I have been led to understand that the bold sentence is not a sentence. Does this make the whole extract grammatically wrong and to be corrected? To me the extract reads absolutely fine.

Question: Should the extract be corrected or is it OK as it is?

I know there are various corrections and what these are is not the question.

For example, I understand I can correct to:

With the emergence of truly novel thinkers, they are intriguing in their scope.

However, as a native speaker I don't think I would even have noticed this error.


I am now worrying slightly about all manner of non-sentences in my academic writing. A little googling suggests I am writing speech rather than writing writing.

This question was closed on English SE.

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  • Based on this post and my knowledge of parallel structure, I am thinking a semicolon may be necessary, so as to give: With for example the works of the masters, subjects are beautiful; with the emergence of truly novel thinkers, intriguing in their scope. Still, I am not certain.
    – Michael
    Dec 16, 2021 at 10:30
  • Highly related: Creative writing use and abuse
    – Laurel
    Dec 16, 2021 at 13:06
  • 3
    As a non-native speaker, I am a bit stumbling at this phrase and second guessing if I got its meaning correct.
    – Alexander
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:56
  • 1
    As a native speaker, I find the whole paragraph awkward. Dec 18, 2021 at 12:54

2 Answers 2

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Taken for its own, your words (“With the emergence of truly novel thinkers, intriguing in their scope.”) cannot be grammatically parsed:

  • “With the emergence of truly novel thinkers” parses as a fronted adverbial, so no problem here.
  • “in their scope“ parses as a regular adverbial, which is also fine.
  • “intriguing” is what remains, but is meaningless on its own (in this context). It is not clear what is intriguing. My best guess would be the thinkers, but that does not make sense semantically.

Mind that this is about grammatical parsability, i.e., whether the grammatical roles of words can be identified, as opposed to intelligibility, which usually requires more context. This is not an artefact of written language but the problem persists in spoken language: If you read your words (“With the emergence of truly novel thinkers, intriguing in their scope.”) out loud without, they cannot be grammatically parsed either.

You worry that this may be a problem of “writing speech”, but a good orthography can represent all grammatical speech; it may lose some nuances, but not grammaticality. Instead, I suspect that your problem is that your writing fails to reflect the spoken language due to improper use of orthography, more precisely punctuation. Given the lack of meaningful words in your example, I have to guess, but you probably should have written:

With for example the works of the masters, subjects are beautiful; with the emergence of truly novel thinkers, intriguing in their scope.

(I will leave the question whether a comma instead of the semicolon would have sufficed to others, e.g., this Q&A. AFAICT, most style guides consider the use of the semicolon in such cases optional.)

This makes it clear, that it is subjects who are intriguing. Also, if your read this out loud, it probably works, unless you take too long a break where you previously had a full stop.

Finally, mind that while you can represent all sort of spoken language in written form without losing grammaticality, this does not automatically make the result appropriate for academic writing – but that’s not your problem here.

Sidenote: “But ‘intriguing’ can be a meaningful utterance on its own!”

Consider a dialogue:

A: “I found a second even prime number.”
B: “Intriguing!”

Here the word intriguing can perfectly stand on its own and form a sentence, more precisely a nominal sentence lacking a subject and a verb. In dialogue, almost every solitary adjective is understood to be applied to the previous statement, as if preceded by “This is”. However, this only works in dialogue (or dialogue-like writing), which is not what you are doing. Moreover, your intriguing does not stand on its own by any means.

To put it bluntly,

“Intriguing!”

is a valid English sentence, but

Intriguing.

is not.

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It should be corrected, to me it reads awkwardly.

With the emergence of truly novel thinkers, intriguing in their scope.

Does "their" refer to the novel thinkers? Are the novel thinkers intriguing in their scope? What is the scope of a novel thinker?

Perhaps something like:

Truly novel thinkers can emerge, producing work intriguing in its scope.

IMO fragments are not always bad writing. Brevity may increase impact. But the missing parts of the sentence should be instantly obvious to readers from the context. In this case, they are not.

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