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In this practice SAT question, the test-taker is required to identify the existence and location of an error in a sentence:

  1. True chalcedony is different from blue agate [in] the purity of its pale-blue color and, [of the two], [is] the gemstone [preferred] by jewelry makers. [No error]

I thought that the error was "is" because one couldn't tell whether the "is" was referring to the first or the second gemstone.

However, apparently, the error is "of the two" because "of the two" is redundant information. Why is "is" not the error?

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    Where is this from? Neither redundancy nor ambiguity is a grammatical "error." They may be considered stylistic flaws, but to me it seems like that's a matter of opinion for which there is no authoritative answer.
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 21:52
  • @sumelic The SAT tests both ambiguity and redundancy, and the correct answer in the writing sections has neither.
    – Grammar983
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 21:58
  • Good to know. I've edited your question to add this information. So you mainly want to know why the SAT doesn't seem to consider "is" ambiguous here, am I right?
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 21:59
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    @Grammar983, sumelic, but that SAT answer is wrong! If of the two wasn't in there, the sentence would be ambiguous because it could easily be read as meaning that chalcedony was the gemstone of choice for jewelry makers in general (as in it is preferred over all other gems). Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 22:02
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    @Araucaria That's a great point. In the original example, however, would you say that the "is" is ambiguous?
    – Grammar983
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 22:07

2 Answers 2

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The "is" is not ambiguous because this is a coordinate structure, as shown by the use of the conjunction "and."

Subject: True chalcedony
First coordinated predicate: [is different from blue agate in the purity of its pale-blue color]
Conjunction: and, (of the two),
Second coordinated predicate: (is) the gemstone preferred by jewelry makers.

(Actually, I'm not completely sure where the "of the two" fits in syntactically, but it doesn't make a difference.) The presence of "and" tells us that the subject of the the second predicate has to be the same as the subject of the preceding predicate.

Looking at the two noun phrases "true chalcedony" and "blue agate," only the first acts as the subject of a predicate. So we know the second "is" must refer back to "true chalcedony."

(By the way, I have never studied syntax extensively, and what I do know is rusty, so it's quite likely that some of my terminology here is non-standard or obsolete. However, I believe all of the concepts are accurate.)

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Here are the two options:

True chalcedony is different from blue agate in the purity of its pale-blue color, and is the gemstone preferred by jewelry makers.

True chalcedony is different from blue agate in the purity of its pale-blue color and, of the two, the gemstone preferred by jewelry makers.

We wouldn't typically drop the second "is", with or without "of the two":

 True chalcedony is 
   different from blue agate in the purity of its pale-blue color 
   and 
   (of the two)
   the gemstone preferred by jewelry makers.

because the two discrete predications are so different in nature that we really want a second "is".

Consider:

Mary is better than Jane in long-distance races, and my sister.

But:

Would you like to participate in a political poll?
-- Time for one question is all I have and all I'm gonna give you.

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  • The context I derived from the two options shown in parentheses in the OP.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 22:45
  • Just have to feel your way backwards through the dimly lit corridors of the test-writer's mind :)
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 22:47

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