1

Question sentence: I am supposed to suggest the correct rewrite of the emphasized part.

The Tibetan system of meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than Zen meditation

I thought along the lines of

The Tibetan system of meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than the Zen meditation is tied to its surroundings

and hence answered "the Zen meditation". However, the answer given is "that of Zen meditation". I don't have any clue how they (khanacademy) arrived at this answer.

Please help me understand why this is the correct choice.

  • 2
    The definite article isn't correct in "the Zen meditation..." - you would want to write "the Zen system of meditation". So, think about the sentence as comparing different systems, and not "Tibetan meditation" and "Zen meditation". – ColleenV Oct 3 '17 at 14:27
  • We often are asked to explain or justify answers given by Khan Academy; however, all too often these answers are incorrect or unjustifiable. Don't worry if you sometimes disagree with them. – Andrew Oct 3 '17 at 16:22
  • @Andrew Actually, the official body (CollegeBoard) conducting the exam (SAT) is the one which wrote all this practice material. I honestly feel it's more important for me to bend my train of thought to their, than to figure out the sensible rules of grammar. I appreciate the latter 10x more, but i've got to get good marks on the test as well :P – Gaurang Tandon Oct 4 '17 at 11:57
  • @GaurangTandon If this is an actual SAT question it would be challenged by numerous students, as it's awkward and poorly written. Legions of professional editors would shake their heads in frustration. – Andrew Oct 4 '17 at 13:53
  • 1
    @GaurangTandon The questions that end up on actual SAT sample tests shouldn't contain any flaws, but there's no guarantee that SAT-prep sites like KhanAcademy will be as rigorous. – Andrew Oct 5 '17 at 14:53
3

The Tibetan system of meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than Zen meditation.

That's a grammatical sentence as far as I'm concerned, if a little wordy. It could be simplified to:

Tibetan meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than Zen meditation.

Teachers of expository prose might want you to stick the word is in there:

Tibetan meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than is Zen meditation.

If, for some reason, we wanted to emphasize that it is a system of meditation, we need to compare system to system, not "system" to "meditation", and it is for that reason a writing teacher might demand:

The Tibetan system of meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than that of Zen meditation.

That is, "than that [one, i.e. system] of Zen meditation."

1

Neither the original nor the Khan Academy alternative are as strictly parallel as possible:

The Tibetan system of meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than the Zen system.

Khan Academy's most likely assumption is reasonable: we should compare like to like, either system to system or meditation to meditation.  Comparing system to meditation is less than ideal.  However, to my native reader's eye, Khan didn't improve the sentence.

There is a grammatical difference between "the Tibetan system of meditation" and "that [meaning, the system] of Zen meditation", although the semantic difference may seem negligible.  It makes a difference whether "Zen" is inside or outside the prepositional phrase.  The phrasing "that of Zen" in this context could more easily be expanded to "the Tibetan system of Zen" rather than "the system of Zen meditation".  The grammar is more closely parallel, and the semantics are at least as plausible.

So, no, we can't really help you understand why Khan's alternative is the correct choice.  It is too easy to argue that it is a less than ideal choice.

That being said, I still recommend comparing like to like.

  • "The phrasing "that of Zen" in this context could more easily be expanded to "the Tibetan system of Zen" rather than "the system of Zen meditation". " That's a nice train of thought. Never thought of it. While surely it doesn't make sense to me to say "the Tibetan system of Zen", I feel you're right in saying that going by the rules of English, either of the expanded forms could be possible. Thanks for this info ^_^ – Gaurang Tandon Oct 4 '17 at 11:54
  • Surely? To my native-reading eye, it certainly would make sense to say "the Tibetan system of Zen". I'd go so far as to say it's a reasonable topic of discussion, pairing nicely with the Tibetan tradition of Zen. Were I sure that the phrase couldn't make sense, I'd not have been so bothered by Khan Academy's proposed improvement. – Gary Botnovcan Oct 4 '17 at 14:42
  • It didn't feel good to me because it was like connecting two proper nouns of same meaning, like "the Eiffel Tower location of the Taj Mahal". – Gaurang Tandon Oct 4 '17 at 15:02
  • They are both proper, but they don't carry the same kind of meaning. Tibetan relates to a geographical region. Zen relates to what we might call a religion. If they did carry the same kind of meaning, then your instincts would match my own. In "The Northern style of agriculture differs from that of the South", I wouldn't as easily imagine "the Northern style of the South" to be a sensible expansion. In that context, "that of the South" more likely means "the Southern style of agriculture". – Gary Botnovcan Oct 4 '17 at 15:38
0

I find the original sentence fully grammatical and unambiguous. The allegedly correct answer:

The Tibetan system of meditation is more closely tied to its surroundings than that of Zen meditation.

sounds very awkward to me and is unclear. The phrase "that of Zen meditation" seems to refer back to "the Tibetan system," which is presumably not the intention.

  • 2
    The challenge is that a well-written sentence should compare like to like. The sentence isn't comparing Tibetan to Zen meditation; it's comparing how each system is tied to its surroundings. Without a complete overhaul, it's difficult to write this sentence without sounding awkward. – Andrew Oct 3 '17 at 16:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.