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May 14, 2003

Hang on: genius? Rose points

Daniel Radosh

Hang on: genius? Rose points out this story of a grammar error on the PSAT...with the minor detail that the error is not actually an error.

Students were asked if anything was grammatically wrong with the following sentence: "Toni Morrison's genius enables her to create novels that arise from and express the injustices African Americans have endured."

The correct choice on the multiple choice exam was originally listed as "no error" ... Maryland high school journalism teacher Kevin Keegan... informed ETS that the sentence was incorrect because the pronoun in the sentence -- "her" -- was used improperly. Keegan said the pronoun refers to an adjective instead of a noun, as it should.

Francis begs to differ: A pronoun can never replace an adjective, but it's not replacing "Toni Morrison's", it's replacing "Toni Morrison". I personally feel the phrase "Toni Morrison's genius" is grammatically equivalent to "the genius of Toni Morrison" (which, although it's a prepositional phrase, couldn't lead anyone to conclude that Toni Morrison was a preposition herself; she's just not that versatile). Even though "Morrison's" looks like one word, it's two discrete units: proper noun + possessive signifier. I mean, if you can't have crossover between possessive words and pronouns, how the heck do we even have words like "my"?

Grammar mavens are invited to submit alternate points of view.

My opinion, the whole problem could have been avoided with a simple rewording: "Toni Morrison has been coasting on a couple of good novels because white liberals are afraid to admit how mediocre she is."

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