The praise that Mark Twain received is alone among the praise given to any writer in the history of American literature. — On Mark Twain's Literary Genius, by Sandra.M.Lee

First of all, is this grammatically valid?

The reason I feel this is odd is that the superlative tone of this sentence is expressed with "alone" and "any writer," the import thereof being, "The praise that Mark Twain received is the most lavish that any writer has ever received."

Is this a variant of this version of mine?

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    We need more context to process this sentence. You're going to get lost of comments saying that the original sentence isn't good - but that will probably just be because the context isn't there. Could you give us the rest of the paragraph, please? :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 10 '14 at 14:44
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    I am not sure if it is grammatically correct, but, I think she is trying to be poetic, and it means that the praise he has received is unparalleled, incomparable to any other. It is more than unique, it is in its own, out there. I think that is why she used "alone", instead of unique. There could be other unique praise given to some other, but the one given to Mark Twain is altogether in another league. – Dzyann Nov 10 '14 at 15:06

It's grammatical, but it is not exactly idiomatic. Sandra Lee would have done well to select a more suitable word — unique, unequalled, unparalleled or even singular would have been better than alone.

(In fact, that clumsily composed sentence of Lee's would benefit from being completely rewritten. For instance: "In the history of American literature, the amount of praise that was lavished on Mark Twain has not been equalled to this day".)

  • I can't really agree with this answer. To begin with I am not clear on how 'alone', in this context, really differs from 'unique'. And I don't think the author, in using 'alone' is necessarily applying a superlative. In short I don't think she is actually saying that the 'praise...has not been equalled'. Of course it depends what you mean by 'equalled'... – WS2 Nov 10 '14 at 10:32
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    @WS2 - In that case, let me ask you this: 1) How satisfactorily does "is alone", in the context of this sentence, equal unique? "The praise that Mark Twain received is alone among the praise..." is pretty muddled in terms of the relationships of its individual elements (and singularly awkward as a consequence); 2) how idiomatic is it?; 3) if Lee is not intending to apply a superlative with her use of "alone among the praise", then what is she trying to do? I will concede that "has not been equalled" is ambiguous; it would have been clearer if I had written "has not been surpassed". – Erik Kowal Nov 10 '14 at 11:30
  • @ErikKowal But I don't think that is the point the writer is trying to get across. Which is best, and which surpasses the others - a child's tricycle, a cream cake, or a football? The answer clearly is that none of them can be said to 'equal' or 'surpass' the others. Each is unique to the list, or alone among them all. – WS2 Nov 10 '14 at 12:27
  • @WS2 - But we're not talking about which author is the best. We're talking about the praise this particular author has garnered, and the degree to which it exceeds/differs from the praise that has been bestowed on other authors. (Or were you not talking about authors when you were attempting to draw a parallel with a child's tricycle, a cream cake, and a football?) – Erik Kowal Nov 10 '14 at 12:35
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    @WS2 - No, I think we can agree that we probably disagree. Which is perfectly fine. :) – Erik Kowal Nov 10 '14 at 22:31

Perhaps the nature of the original sentence's badness would be clearer if we swapped out the praise of authors for the leaves of trees:

The leaves that the gingko has are alone among the leaves possessed by any tree in the whole of the forest.

As username901345 says, the problem areas here are "alone" (when expressed in the context of leaves among other leaves) and "any tree" (when intended to convey the idea of all other trees in the comparison). What you'd want to say is something like this:

The leaves that the gingko has are unique among the leaves possessed by the trees in the forest.

or, really,

The ginkgo's leaves are unlike any other leaves in the forest.

Similarly, in the discussion of the praise that Twain has received, we would do better to clear out the "alone" and the "any writer" in favor of something like this:

The praise that Mark Twain received differs from the praise given to other great American writers.

The awkwardness of the original wording proceeds from the infelicitous "praise alone among praise" and the unhelpful identification of a single "any writer" to serve for "all other writers."

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    Q: "Where do you hide the praise for a famous author?" A: "Alone, among the other praise". – Erik Kowal Nov 10 '14 at 11:52
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    I think "alone" could work if used with a different verb: "The praise that Mark Twain received stands alone among all the praise given to America's writers throughout its history.". – supercat Nov 10 '14 at 21:09
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    @supercat I agree and was about to make the same comment. The OP reads much better with "stands alone". – aaa90210 Nov 10 '14 at 21:31

Idiomatically, the author is the one who is alone among authors. As Sven Yargs says, "praise alone among praise" doesn't cut it. The locution wants something countable.

Twain is alone among American authors in the amount of praise he has received.

With respect to the question of "lavishness". I would think the author has in mind that Twain was popular not only in his native land but around the world. "Universally" praised.

So the author's "amount" sounds like something we might write when we're in a hurry, or tired.

  • Not sure of the reason for the downvote. – TRomano Nov 11 '14 at 17:39
  • P.S. I'm not sure why there are sometimes "ghost" versions or duplicate answers appearing. Is there a software glitch that creates a duplicate when the original is edited? – TRomano Nov 11 '14 at 18:00

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