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a choice between one of two options

I would like to know if this is correct grammatically. I came across it in a scientific paper. I think the “one of ” part should be removed. Am I correct?

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-1 Research not shown. – MετάEd Sep 1 '12 at 17:54
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The original statement is redundant and semantically awkward. Technically it's grammatical, I suppose: it is well-formed, but the meaning is wonky. It's not right to say you have a "choice between one", but that's not a question of grammar but of meaning.

a choice between two options

is better than

a choice between one of two options.

but not because of the grammar.

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Thank you, I thought "between" and "one of two options" couldn't be combined, just like you can't stand between a single line (what would that even mean?), but you CAN stand between two lines. – pancake Sep 1 '12 at 16:33

Is it grammatically correct? Sure.

Can you remove “one of ” and have it still mean the same thing? Sure.

Should you do so? I can’t answer that. As written, it does seem longer than it needs to be, but scientific papers with word-count requirements are often that way. Nobody ever pays a scientist to publish good English, only to publish, period.

You could alternately remove “between one”. That leaves us with these possibilities:

  • a choice between one of two options
  • a choice between two options
  • a choice of two options

Depending on whether you have two or more than two, you could also use:

  • a choice between either of two options
  • a choice between one of several options

None of these is a matter of grammar, merely of style.

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Exactly. There are always words or phrases that can be omitted and left to the listener to infer. Every time this is done, it puts one more load on the attention and imagination that is necessary for the listener to interpret and understand -- not to say be convinced by -- what is being said. In speech, we can often get around this with intonation and feedback; in writing, it frequently overloads the reader. – John Lawler Sep 1 '12 at 16:18
Nobody but Big Pharma pays scientists to publish scientific papers. Scientists usually have to pay publication fees, so if the journal is published in the USA, it has to say "Advertisement" because of US Government rules. Most scientific journals do have word-count requirements, but unlike syndicated columns in newspapers, they tell their authors that Abstracts must be under 250 (typical limit) words, total text under 3000 (typical limit) words, and reference lists (they don't call them bibliographies) under 40 (typical limit) items long. A "choice between one of two options" is semantics. – user21497 Sep 1 '12 at 16:24
@tchrist "a choice between one of two options" is not strictly a grammatical or a style problem but a semantic problem. "A choice of one of two options" is possible (but not good style); "a choice between one of two options" is patently illogical nonsense. But maybe stupidity is a style. You might be right. – user21497 Sep 1 '12 at 16:36
@BillFranke tchrist, is right! Note, however, that there is no semantic problem if both options are of a uniform semantic type: language is not engineering or chemistry! – Elberich Schneider Sep 1 '12 at 17:23
@BillFranke You really think that anything published or subsidized by the government is "generally" unbiased and accurate? That the government never has an agenda that they are trying to push? That if you want to know the truth about any subject, the best way to get it is to read the prepared remarks from a politician's latest press conference? Wow. – Jay Oct 1 '12 at 15:40

It might be a bit awkward, and wordier than necessary; however, it's worth pointing out that you've given us the sentences in isolation, out of context.

Conceivably, there are times I might vote to leave that construct as it is, depending on the surrounding content. For example, if I was writing documentation for a software system, I might be talking about three input screens. In that context, I might say:

  • The first menu prompts the user to select exactly two options from a list of five.
  • The second menu allows the user to select up to three options from a list of nine.
  • The third menu gives the user a choice between one of two options.

In that case, the language of the third statement parallels the other two, so I find less fault in it.

So, to answer your question (which was, “am I correct?”), I would agree that you may be onto something, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that the original wording is always inferior in all contexts.

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No, language of third statement isn't parallel. First two have user to [verb] [count] from ..., third doesn't; should instead be like The third menu lets the user choose one of two options – jwpat7 Sep 1 '12 at 23:26
@jwpat7: I realize it wasn't an exact parallel; I just meant it sounded less awkward in that context because the preceding statements had a relatively similar construction. Maybe "parallel" was too strong a word. – J.R. Sep 2 '12 at 1:11
@ J.R. You yourself say "I find less fault in it". Fowler would say, I believe, that it's better to err grammatically than to foist bad style upon the reader. IOW, in the real world, less-than-optimal language is sometimes necessary, so don't be a pedant when you don't have to. "The third menu lets the user choose between two options" is easier, shorter, natural, and parallel. Nevertheless, your point is well taken. – user21497 Sep 2 '12 at 1:40

The prepositional phrase "between one of two options" is grammatically correct because the noun phrase is "one of two options" and not "one". "Between one of two options" means "between one option and a second option", which would not appear grammatically incorrect to you, I assume.

Otherwise, I agree that this is redundant. It is also likely, poor style unless other context makes this structure flow better, as pointed out by JR. However, if I was reading a research article on a topic of interest to me, I doubt I would notice this. I suspect the co-authors, reviewers and editors spent more effort on the difficult concepts in the article.

I reviewed prepositional phrases and noun phrases for this, but do not know how to include a link on my device. Apologies for that.

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Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. Perfect grammar, semantic nonsense. Between one of two options. Perfect grammar, semantic nonsense, but more subtly so because not as extremely nonsensical as Chomsky's sentence. Nonsense never (IMHO) makes for good style, even when it makes the language flow better. Nor do ideology, dogmatism, or idiolectic bias. Perfect grammar doesn't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse; it merely puts lipstick on the pig. – user21497 Sep 2 '12 at 1:24
@BillFranke I appreciate your example and respect your opinion. I agree it's poor style because it is redundant. However, it makes sense and is probably a common error. Even these "achromic verdant thoughts slumbering raucously" serve a purpose in your comment. – Mike Sep 3 '12 at 3:07
Touché! Common errors in speech frequently overflow and swamp one's writing. – user21497 Sep 3 '12 at 3:23

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