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I'm having trouble with the grammar of this sentence:

In urban areas, the graduation index of general high school and higher education was greater than 1, while that of compulsory education and secondary vocational education was smaller than 1.

Should I change "index" to "indexes", and thus "was" to "were", and "that of" to "those of"?

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    As stated, there is a single index for "high school and higher education" and another index for "compulsory education and secondary vocational education". If you are writing this, and that is not what you mean, then you should make the changes you mention. If someone else wrote it, how do you know what they said is not what they mean? – GEdgar May 13 at 12:09
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    Or change it to indices. I never could quite choke down indexes. And a reduplication of the preposition can help here to make explicit how many there really are. "In urban areas, the graduation index of (or for) general high school and [of or for] higher education was greater ..." This may be the best way to get the one-index-per-item-listed point across. Just switching to indicies doesn't remove the ambiguity, it just replaces it with a different one. – Phil Sweet May 24 at 9:48
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    @PhilSweet why don't you post your comment as an answer? I'd upvote it. I don't think the OP will return :( – Mari-Lou A May 24 at 10:07
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    I see no reason for indices here. Please specify if there are two or four. And also, do you mean index? Generally, graduation is stated in rates. – Lambie May 24 at 19:37
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    It is unclear whether the OP intended a single index to measure two systems or for each system (eg higher education) to have its own index. – Lawrence May 26 at 23:51
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It depends on the underlying data. Also, I prefer "less" rather than "smaller" for mathematical descriptions; "less" is the better term to pair with "greater", and "smaller" would pair best with "bigger".

Is there one index for general high school and higher education? Then your sentence is correct because the index in the second comparison is easily inferred from the stated index in the first comparison. If there are two different indices and they are each greater than one, then you have to use the plural and you have to state you're referring to an index (not several indices):

In urban areas, the graduation indices of general high school and higher education were each greater than 1, while the index of compulsory education and secondary vocational education was less than 1.

Unless, of course, there are actually two indices for "compulsory education" and "secondary vocational education", in which case you need to make the same change in the second part of the sentence.

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    This, as it stands, answers the first part of the question, but not the second. The answer can, however be readily adapted to the second part: if there is one index that combines compulsory education and secondary vocational education, the sentence is OK as it is, but if these are two separate indices, it needs to be modified. – jsw29 May 26 at 20:15
  • @jsw29 Good point, thank you. I'll amend my answer to make it more complete. – D Mac May 26 at 22:44
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    Good pickup with less, but did you mean "smaller" is the better term to pair with "bigger"? Also, you've replaced "that of" with "the index of", which probably reads better – but is this just stylistic, or do you think there's an issue in using while that of when the singular relative pronoun relates to a previous plural noun? I think this is worth addressing, given the question specifically asks about that of vs those of. – Chappo May 28 at 22:50
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Should I change "index" to "indexes", and thus "was" to "were", and "that of" to "those of"?

That doesn't really get rid of the ambiguity, it just changes it to a different ambiguity.

A reduplication of the preposition can help here to make explicit how many there really are.

In urban areas, the graduation index of (or for) general high school and [of or for] higher education [was?] were greater than one, while that of (or for) compulsory education and [of or for] secondary vocational education [was?] were smaller than one.

This may be the best way to get the one-index-per-item-listed point across.

The changes you suggested may imply that there are multiple graduation indices associated with each one. Perhaps context handles this problem, but as a stand alone statement, English is severely challenged when trying to handle the distribution of a plural subject across multiple PPs. Grammar doesn't handle this. If you want to be precise, you just have to explain it in words.

  • I don't think the original problem is ambiguity but verb agreement. So to me it depends on whether the OP is talking about one or more indices in the first comparison. – D Mac May 26 at 19:26
  • -1. (a) Subject and verb don't agree: "the index of A and B were ...". (b) The extra preposition doesn't reduce the ambiguity; you could achieve that with "the indices of A and B were ..." or, if it's a single index for both, "the index for the set of A and B was ...". – Chappo May 28 at 22:38
  • @Chappo But that isn't what I wrote. I wrote "The index of A and of B were ..." There, the subject is compounded with the and, it it does have subject verb agreement, at least in the dialect I speak. It is no different than saying "a cat and a dog were fighting. – Phil Sweet May 29 at 9:37
  • @Chappo, I may post this as a question when I get back home. This is one of the things that led me to this site years ago. – Phil Sweet May 29 at 9:47
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    @Chappo Probably not, but then we know ahead of time how noses are apportioned. In OP's case, we don't know how the indices are apportioned. – Phil Sweet May 29 at 19:15

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