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There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, the capital of Combodia, starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and the market areas where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention.

For a learner like me, this sentence is difficult to understand.
How can I divide this sentence into simple sentences?

  • 1
    @200_success I think the question mark in the title was a typo, perhaps? – Damkerng T. Sep 1 '16 at 21:03
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You can start with the punctuation. For this sentence, the commas divide the sentence usefully. Consider what each phrase means, and what it relates to.

  1. There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh,
  2. the capital of [Cambodia],
  3. starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda,
  4. the National Museum and the market areas where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention.

Phrase 1 is straightforward.

Look at phrase 2. It's a noun phrase. What does it relate to? In this case, it provides more information about Phnom Penh. It's also a parenthetical expression, so you should be able to remove it without changing the meaning of the sentence. Take it out, and see what's left.

There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and the market areas where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention.

At this point, note that you have a list:

  • a tour of the Silver Pagoda,
  • the National Museum and
  • the market areas

This is followed by the word "where". In this case, it relates to the nearest noun (market areas), saying that some things happen in that place.

The rest of the sentence tells you what those things are:

  • hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention

Putting all this together, the sentence says that:

  • there is a lot to see in Phnom Penh,
  • Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia,
  • the 'seeing' started with the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and the market areas, and
  • in the market areas, hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention.
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    Breaking the sentence on commas is only somewhat useful as the list commas are within one noun phrase so don't constitute a break at the same level; I'd diagram it more like - [There is plenty to see in [Phnom Penh, the capital of Combodia], starting with [a tour of [[the Silver Pagoda], [the National Museum] and [the market areas where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention]]]. – Pete Kirkham Sep 1 '16 at 14:14
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    @PeteKirkham I understand. Given the nature of English syntax, I don't think there is a deterministic strategy. Breaking at commas is just one thing to try. It happens to help with this particular sentence. – Lawrence Sep 1 '16 at 14:17
  • I would divide 3 and 4 as: 3. starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and the market areas and 4. where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention. – ypercubeᵀᴹ Sep 1 '16 at 17:43
  • @ypercubeᵀᴹ Yes, that would be better, though market areas applies to both the new 3 and 4 in your scheme. I was looking for a simple heuristic that could be applied mechanically by a learner. It's far from perfect, but learners should try is to have a set of things to try. Breaking sentences at commas to examine the pieces is one such 'thing to try'. Looking for lists is another. – Lawrence Sep 1 '16 at 22:56
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This sentence can be divided into eight sentences.

  1. There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh.
  2. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh.
  3. There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, and the market areas.
  4. There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, for example, a tour of the Silver Pagoda.
  5. There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, for example, the National Museum.
  6. There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, for example, the market areas.
  7. The market areas have hand-woven silks and antiques.
  8. Hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention.
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You're not the only one to have trouble parsing this sentence. I had trouble with it myself, and had to re-read it several times to figure out what was meant. Here is what I ended up with:

  • The main clause: There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh
    • Parenthetical clause about "Phnom Penh": , the capital of Combodia,
      Note that "Cambodia" is misspelled here.
    • Dependent clause about "see": , starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and the market areas
      • Restrictive clause about "market areas": where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention

I would consider the sentence poorly written. The biggest problem is that a comma is missing after "areas", such that the last clause looks like a non-restrictive clause rather than a restrictive clause. As written, it's hard to see that where hand-woven silks and antiques will compete for your attention modifies market areas, so I had to go back and puzzle out how to edit the sentence so that it makes sense.

I would also note that a tour of is superfluous, and only adds confusion since it's not obvious where the prepositional phrase ends.

If I had to cram all of that information into one sentence, I'd write it this way:

There is plenty to see in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, starting with the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, and the markets, where antiques and hand-woven silks will compete for your attention.

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