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Please take a look at the following sentences:

  1. Endemic species are by definition those that exist nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems.

  2. Endemic species are defined as those that exist nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems.

  3. Existing nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems defines endemic species.

  4. Endemic species are those that exist nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems.

I find it difficult to tell what implications each sentence has. I try to think aloud my thoughts:

"By definition" implies "by nature" so 1. express an intrinsically close relation between the endemic species and living in the protected ecosystems.

Since 3. put endemic species as the sentence object and since "defines" mean one possible way to describes a thing, so 3. simply express one way to define endemic species.

Lastly, 2. shows the definition of endemic species; such definition is currently held as the definition of endemic species.


Edited:

Additionally, the added 4. seems ambiguous in that it might offer an explanation but not a definition, vice versa.

Could you kindly share your insight about or comment on my interpretations? Thank you.

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  • I would argue that (1) and (2) mean the same. If A is by definition a B, it falls in the category of things we have chosen to define as B. (An overcoat is by definition an outer garment.) Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 8:41
  • @KateBunting They aren't used in the same way though. You might say "a birthday cake is, by definition, a cake", because it's tacit in the naming convention and the definition is clear to all. We don't usually say "by definition" when the definition isn't clear or widely known. You wouldn't, for example, say "jurisprudence is, by definition, the science or philosophy of law".
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 9:22

2 Answers 2

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In the first sentence, the phrase "by definition" is inserted into the sentence. It could be punctuated as a parenthesis:

Endemic species are, by definition, those that exist ...

The prepositional phrase "by definition" could be placed at the start: "By definition, endemic..." or at the end: "Endemic species are ... ecosystems, by definition".

The second means the same, but uses a different construction. There are three common constructions:

A is B, by definition.

A is defined as B.

The definition of A is B.

In practice, all three are used and can be correct. In this context, my preferred phrasing is 2, for no logical reason.

Your last example is possible but weaker rhetorically. The long, "weighty" phrase should come at the end of the sentence and the short phrase being defined should be at the start. On the other hand, when the definition is very short (and probably not a literal definition) this can be used:

Power defines American muscle cars

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Option 1: Endemic species are by definition those that exist nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems.

The expression "by definition" tends to be used where the name of something also defines it. For example:

"Wet wall tiles are by definition suitable for use in shower cubicles".

The fact that these wall tiles are called "wet" tiles means their definition is tacit in the name.

If your statement is aimed exclusively at people who know what "endemic" means, then this option might be suitable - however, if you are actually aiming at a wider audience and hoping to educate on what "endemic species" are then this might not be a good option. It might even come over as a little exclusionary.


Option 3: Existing nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems defines endemic species.

When we explain the meaning of something, or give a definition, we usually use the passive voice, where the object becomes the subject. For example:

I made a cake (active voice)
A cake was made by me (passive voice)

Passive voice has its place, but many kinds of statement (like my example) do sound weird in the passive voice.

But this is the usual style of a definition:

Water is defined as a clear liquid, without colour or taste. (passive)
A clear liquid, without colour or taste is a definition of water. (active)

The latter sounds very odd. Your third option also sounds unusual, I can't imagine a context where you would use that.


Option 2 seems the best one for the widest audience.

Endemic species are defined as those that exist nowhere else but in the protected ecosystems.

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