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Reading the following sentence:

The 20th century presented a large number of inventions to advance US society by improving upon the status of 19th-century society

I wonder why it's neccesary to use "upon" next to "improve". Why not only use "improve"?

The full context is:

For example, if your general assignment is to write about the changes in inventions over time, and your specific thesis claims that “the 20th century presented a large number of inventions to advance US society by improving upon the status of 19th-century society,” you could brainstorm two different lists to ensure you are covering the topic thoroughly and that your thesis will be easy to prove.

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    Because in the 20th century it was no longer possible to improve the status of a 19th-century society which by then lay in the past. – StoneyB on hiatus May 11 '16 at 17:43
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  • Improve [X] means to make X better than X was before.

Apple improved the iPod by adding a color display.


  • Improve upon [X] means to make a new thing that is related to X but better.

CD's improved upon vinyl records by providing more capacity in a smaller, more durable format.


  • Sample sentence: “the 20th century presented a large number of inventions to advance US society by improving upon the status of 19th-century society.

The 20th century society is not the 19th century society. It is a new thing, related to the 19th century society, but better.

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    Can I suggest that "Improved upon [X] means to make something that is related to X but better" would be slightly clearer if you said "Improved upon [X] means to make a new thing that is related to X but better". – Lostinfrance May 11 '16 at 18:08
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    @Lostinfrance Yes! – Adam May 11 '16 at 18:32

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