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This is a sentence I saw on a TV program:

One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is in having eye openings.

What I am confused about is why we use "in" before "having eye openings." Could we leave it out in this case?

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    Which TV program? The sentence has several scientific and grammatical problems, but "in" isn't one of them. Check the use of singular and plural and try to make sure the quote is exactly correct. – James K Nov 6 '18 at 6:59
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One meaning of "in" is with regard to. It is an extension of the usual meaning of "in". Usually "in" is used to tell where something is, physically or figuratively. Here it is used to describe which category the difference is "in". A preposition is required here to form a prepositional phrase.

However, the sentence is not correct because of the mix of singular and plural ("lizards" but "snake"; "the ways... are..." but only one "way" described). It is also not correct scientifically (snakes lack eyelids, but do have eye openings).

It would be better to rephrase, and there are many options.

In having eyelids, snakes differ from lizards.
Lizards have eyelids, but snakes do not.

  • Thanks, If in was omitted, would the entence still make sense? – Young Nov 9 '18 at 7:41
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To simplify, a gerund is a "verb used as a noun". You can substitute the gerund with any noun to see that it remains a valid construction:

One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is in having eye openings.
One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is in size.
One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is in life expectancy.

Yes, the "in" can be omitted here, as "in which" already establishes the same preposition.

One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is having eye openings.
One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is size.
One of the ways in which lizards differ from snakes is life expectancy.

However, as far as I'm aware, both are correct. Although you could argue the former to be redundant, it can just as well be argued to express things more clearly.

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