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Please consider this sentence:

Members of the flatfish family, sand dabs and flounders, have an additional evolutionary advantage..........

if I know the kinds of fish I can understand these 2 sentences:

  1. sand dabs are a type of flatfish
  2. sand dabs are in the same family as flatfish

I know that sand dabs are a type of flatfish and family with flounders from word meaning

but if I don't know the meaning of the words, how can I detect that sand dabs and flounders are members of flatfish family?

I ask my question with another example, I say:

My family, mother, father, sister and my friend are going to the restaurant.

in this sentence, I know mother and father and sister are members of my family but my friend is not a member of my family, but there isn't any word or symbol in that sentence to separate my friend from my family members.

Therefore, How can I separate and detect in that sentence which word "is member" or "not member"?

In the first example, if I add another kind of fish:

Members of the flatfish family, sand dabs, flounders and dolphins, have an .....

How can I write this when I know dolphins are not members of flatfish family?

UPDATE:

if I don't have scientific knowledge about fish families, is this may I detect sand dabs or flounders are members of the flatfish family from that sentence?

  • Maybe just put them in the brackets. My family(mother, father, sister) and my friend are going to the restaurant. Members of the flatfish family (sand dabs, flounders) and dolphins, have an... – user11312 Mar 5 '15 at 19:17
  • I assume you meant 'parenthesis". In any event, his assumption about the original sentence is flawed because of how it is constructed. I will draft a response. PS: dolphin are not fish. – Gary Mar 5 '15 at 19:37
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Mohammad, you are bringing up an issue that even native-English speakers sometimes don't realize- the essential nature of punctuation and how it is instrumental to sentence clarity. Most people are familiar with periods, spaces, and commas, but there are over a dozen punctuation marks that you can use to make your sentences clearer and consistent with your intention. As suggested by the other answers, there are many things you can do with your original sentence and example sentences to make them clearer.

Is it a List of Three (3) , Example of Two (2), of Just Two (2)

The first thing is that the sample sentence you cited (the "flatfish sentence") is unclear. Unless you know that sand dabs and flounders are flatfish, or you looked them up, you could have equally assumed that the author was listing three separate things. For example:

"Buildings that are over 80 stories tall, Cityspire Center and Metropolitan Tower, have an additional structural aspect when engineered."

Based on how you analyzed the flatfish sentence you would be mistaken to assume that the two specifically named buildings are two in the category of "buildings over 80 stories tall". However, they are not- both buildings are under 80 stories tall. It could be a list of three things (buildings over 80 stories, Cityspire Center, and Metropolitan Tower) that share an engineering characteristic. Similarly, the manner in which the "flatfish" sentence is structured, it could properly be interpreted as a list of three things (the family of flatfish, sand dabs, and flounder). Part of this problem stems from English not having an "ironclad' rule for lists and conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet). For example this:

"Members of the flatfish family, sand dabs and flounders, have an evolutionary advantage over many colorfully decorated ocean neighbors in that they are able to adapt their body coloration to different environments."

may or may not mean the same as this:

"Members of the flatfish family, sand dabs, and flounders, have an evolutionary advantage over many colorfully decorated ocean neighbors in that they are able to adapt their body coloration to different environments."

What Does it Mean?

You also don't know if the flatfish sentence means to say any of the following about the evolutionary advantage:

  1. that it is a feature shared by the flatfish family, sand dabs, and flounders (three things);
  2. that it is shared by all members the flatfish family, for example sand dabs and flounders; (many things of which two are named);
  3. that it is a feature of sand dabs and flounders, who are members of the flatfish family; (two things from a class of many).

I googled the sentence you cited and read the passage from where it was excerpted. The original passage means to discuss an evolutionary advantage that only sand dabs and flounders- have not all flatfish. However, you can't immediately tell from the sentence as originally composed. That sentence should have used additional punctuation, words, or word order to delineate that sand dabs and flounder are a subset of the flatfish family and that only they have the advantage:

" Sand dabs and flounders, members of the flatfish family, have an additional evolutionary advantage …"

Dolphins, Friends, and Family

Once you know what it is you want to say, you can then construct a sentence that represents this clearly and concisely, with as little ambiguity as possible. You could leave it up to the reader to properly interpret what you mean, but it really is up to you to tell people what you mean as clearly and concisely as possible. In the original sentence you cited, we can add "dolphins":

"Sand dabs and flounders (members of the flatfish family) and dolphins have an additional evolutionary advantage..."

or

"Dolphins and two species in the flatfish family (sand dabs and flounders) have an additional evolutionary advantage..."

In the case of the sentence referencing your family, the same suggestions I gave prior would help. However I still think you should re-think of removing some words. It is true that your mother, father, and sister are family members, but you may want to consider the redundancy of including both "my family" and listing the individual members. The sentences:

"My mother, father, sister and my friend are going to the restaurant."

or

"My family and my friend are going to the restaurant."

are equally clear, without the redundancy of "my family" or the list of individual members- after all it is this combination that is causing your problem. (This would be a different case if "your family" could change in meaning with a word modifier.)

Conclusion

I know this answer was long, but I hope it demonstrates why constructing sentences is more than just about grammar. It is also about using punctuation, word choice, and word placement, to convey the intended meaning to your reader or listener.

  • Thanks a lot Gary , I update question, I want to know is any point to know members of family without scientific knowledge? – Mohammad Mar 6 '15 at 10:33
  • If you didn't have scientific knowledge, the original sentence would not help you. You could guess, but you might guess incorrectly 50% of the time-like my example about the buildings. Whoever wrote the original sentence should have written it better just in case the reader does not have knowledge about the fish so that someone who didn't know can guess correctly 100% of the time. I can change the examples in the sentence to use things you may know to show you why the sentence about the fish is not clear. Let me know. – Gary Mar 6 '15 at 14:18
  • Do you think rule 12 on this Web page: m.grammarbook.com/punctuation-rules/commas.aspx refer to my question? – Mohammad Mar 6 '15 at 20:11
  • @Mohammad No it does not. Your question is about the proper use of commas to 1) introduce a list of items, 2)list the items, and 3) do so without being ambiguous. see the section called 'Ambiguity'- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma – Gary Mar 6 '15 at 21:17
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You can reword the sentence to have the non-members come before the members. Like so:

Dolphins and members of the flatfish family--sand dabs and flounders--have an...

or

Dolphins and members of the flatfish family (sand dabs and flounders) have an...

However, it is generally discouraged to write sentences with extra information. Why is it necessary to insert what the members of the family are in the first place? So make sure it is relevant before inserting that information. If this information isn't vital, then consider:

Dolphins and members of the flatfish family have an...

With your sentence regarding your family and friend going to the restaurant however, it is already apparent to the reader that a friend is not a part of your family, simply by the fact that the word is friend.

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