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I'm not a native English speaker, and I have specific concerns about the following text:

After starting my education in Veterinary Medicine and beginning to know diseases and issues that cause problems for animals and their owners**,** I have learned that poisoning was one of the most common problems which we had to deal with it. The interesting thing about poisoning is its diversity. It seemed surprising to me that beside of famous and notorious toxins, many essential elements and substances like Calcium, Sodium and even water can be considered toxins."

  • Is it correct to use a comma in this situation (for animals and their owners, I have learned...)?

  • Does it make sense to use surprising in this sentence? ("It seemed surprising to me that beside of famous and notorious toxins...")

  • Shouldn't water start with a capital letter? ("...many essential elements and substances like Calcium, Sodium and even water can be considered toxins.")

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    What is the question or concern? – David Nov 13 '14 at 13:06
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    This question was also asked on english.SE english.stackexchange.com/questions/207950/… – CRABOLO Nov 13 '14 at 13:16
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    You do not have to choose an answer as best if you found more than one helpful. – user6951 Nov 13 '14 at 19:00
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    Let me add that while the questions you had have already been answered, there is indeed a small mistake in the text: Instead of "one of the most common problem which we had to deal with it", it should be "one of the most common problems which we had to deal with", because the author is talking about one of several problems (also note the extra "it"). In this case it's quite obvious but I have seen it happen quite often in more complicated cases because you have that "one thing" in mind you care about instead of the many you are choosing from. – Oguk Nov 13 '14 at 20:59
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    I don't understand the close vote. The reason being given is that the question is a proof-reading question, which is off-topic unless specific concerns are raised with the text. First, it's not at all clear that it's proof-reading; second, three specific questions are asked: there are definitely "specific concerns" that have been raised with the text. – David Richerby Nov 13 '14 at 22:50
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  1. Is this correct to use a comma in this situation (for animals and their owners, I have learned...)?

  2. Does it make sense to use surprising in this sentence? ("It seemed surprising to me that beside of famous and notorious toxins...")

  3. Shouldn't water start with a capital letter? ("...many essential elements and substances like Calcium, Sodium and even water can be considered toxins.")

Question 1

The answer to 1) is 'yes'. We can use a comma here because there are two parts to the sentence. The main clause is:

  • I have learned that poisoning was one of the most common problem which we had to deal with it.

The phrase at the beginning:

  • After [ starting my education in Veterinary Medicine and beginning to know diseases and issues that cause problems for animals and their owners ]

... is an adjunct giving extra information. It contains a full clause or 'mini-sentence'. When adjuncts like this come at the beginning of the sentence, we sometimes use a comma to separate them from the main part of the sentence (but not always). It is more likely if the adjunct is very, very long.

Question 2

This sentence is special kind of sentence called an 'extraposition'. That pronoun at the beginning, it, doesn't have any meaning. We arrange the sentence like this because it is easier for the reader to get the complicated information at the end of the sentence, not the beginning. The sentence means:

  • [that many essential elements and substances like Calcium, Sodium and even water can be considered toxins] is surprising to me.

The word surprising is fine in this sentence.

Question 3

Some writers sometimes put the names of chemical elements in capital letters: Oxygen, Nitrogen and so forth. However, water is not an element. It is also not a very scientific word - everybody knows what water is. So we definitely don't need a capital letter for water. I agree with the Original Poster, that it looks strange to have Calcium and Sodium in capital letters in the same list as water. Maybe it would be better for the writer to use small letters for all the words instead of capitals. People who write about chemicals in academic or professional publications usually don't recommend using capitals for elements. (See comment by David Richerby below.)

Hope this is helpful!

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    @Khashayar You can upvote any answer you think is good by pressing the up arrow next to the question (you might need 15 points for this). You can give the green tick to the answer which you think is the best or the most helpful! [And you can always leave comments below answers if you want to] – Araucaria Nov 13 '14 at 13:58
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    @Khashayar: you can "upvote" answers that you find useful by clicking on the arrow above the number next to an answer. You can mark an answer as the best answer by selecting the checkmark next to the question. You have now marked an answer that does not answer your questions as the best answer... – oerkelens Nov 13 '14 at 13:59
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    I disagree with your answer to question 3. For example, the American Chemical Society recommends not capitalizing the names of chemicals (elements or compounds), except where required by the normal rules of English writing, such as at the start of a sentence. See page 240 of their style guide. – David Richerby Nov 13 '14 at 17:44
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    @DavidRicherby Yes, I agree that for professional academic publications people don't/shouldn't use capitals for elemants - for obvious reasons: the whole page would be full of caps everywhere. However, that doeesn't stop the quite general fact that neither I nor the American Chemical Society can help, which is that in may types of text we do see chemical elements written with capitals (as is evidenced by the OP's text). I can't really do anything about that, but I can describe what is often done by people writing about chemical elements. I hope you noticed the often in my post! :) – Araucaria Nov 13 '14 at 20:57
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    @F.E. Band aided. Will have to check in the book when I get home to see if I can find a user friendly way of describing it :) – Araucaria Nov 13 '14 at 22:28
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Is this correct to use a comma in this situation (for animals and their owners, I have learned...)?

Yes. It is quite common to separate a subordinate clause from the main clause with a comma, especially if the subordinate clause is quite long and / or complicated:

After we had made our preparations and packed our bags, we called a cab for the airport.


Does it make sense to use surprising in this sentence? ("It seemed surprising to me that beside of famous and notorious toxins...")

Yes. Maybe you are very familiar with the toxicity of common substances, but I dare say that to most people, and indeed the author, it can come as a surprise that many (if not all) common substances can actually be poisonous. So it makes a lot of sense that the author shares that surprise with us by telling us that he found this discovery surprising.


Shouldn't water start with a capital letter? ("...many essential elements and substances like Calcium, Sodium and even water can be considered toxins.")

Personally, I would not write calcium and sodium with a capital either. My guess is that the author chose to use a capital for those two because they are proper names of chemical elements. Water is not a chemical element (it consists of two different chemical elements) and therefore is treated differently. Whether to capitalize the names of chemical elements or not depends on the style-guide that you follow. In absence of such guide, it is a matter of taste - as long as you are consistent.

  • Humph, you beat me to it! :) – Araucaria Nov 13 '14 at 13:24
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    "My guess is that the author chose to use a capital for those two because they are proper names of chemical elements." Yes, the author is probably treating them as proper nouns but they're not proper nouns. There's also no reason to capitalize "Veterinary Medicine". – David Richerby Nov 13 '14 at 17:13
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After starting my education in veterinary medicine, I soon began to learn about diseases and issues that caused problems for animals and their owners.
I have learnt that poisoning was one of the most common problems with which we had to deal.
The interesting thing about poisoning is its diversity, I found it surprising that besides the more infamous and notorious toxins, many chemical elements and substances like calcium, sodium and even water could be considered poisonous.

The OP's questions seemed to have been adequately answered so I'm just posting how I would write such an article.

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    Why capitalize "Veterinary Medicine"? It's not a proper noun. – David Richerby Nov 13 '14 at 17:13
  • @DavidRicherby Yeah true I missed that one. I could try and weedle my way out of it and say it's the course title but then the opening line would be something like; After starting the Veterinary Medicine course... Minus one for me. :) – Joe Dark Nov 13 '14 at 17:28
  • @DavidRicherby Thank you for your correction.What about course title like Physiology and Biochemistry ? – Khashayar Nov 13 '14 at 19:39
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    @Khashayar That's a grey area. You could lower-case it and claim that you're studying the subject of physiology in the physiology department or you could upper-case it and claim that you're studying a course whose name is Physiology in a department whose name is the Department of Physiology. – David Richerby Nov 13 '14 at 19:42
  • @DavidRicherby.What do you suggest?I'm writing a formal letter and I want to seem humble. – Khashayar Nov 13 '14 at 19:47
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Concerning the capitalization, the capitals should be consistent. '-- substances like Calcium, Sodium, and even H2O' would be used in a scholarly report. '-- substances like calcium, sodium, and even water' would be used for a written public presentation.

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    No, a "scholarly report" would just say "water" and element names are not normally capitalized. For example, the American Chemical Society says not to capitalize names of chemicals (such as calcium, sodium and water), except if necessary for reasons of ordinary English writing such as being the first word of a sentence (page 240 of their style guide). – David Richerby Nov 13 '14 at 17:41
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    @David Richerby I've been a real garden of misinformation, lately. ACS is the definitive guide. Agreed, use lower case except when necessary for reasons of ordinary English writing. – JimM Nov 13 '14 at 21:15

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