What’s wrong with this sentence?

“The federal [student] loans are a good deal, but they are often not enough [to] make up the difference between what a family has saved or can spend out of current income and what the student gets in grants and scholarship money.”

[from the New York Times article A New Type of Student Loan, but Still a Risk]

4 Responses to “What’s wrong with this sentence?”

  1. mamster says:

    Ha, I was just seconds ago reading the same article. You mean the misuse of the word “difference”? I would argue that it’s technically incorrect but totally clear what they mean, although they should have said “gap.” Right?

  2. dfan says:

    Yeah, he is saying F < |S - G| when he means F < T - (S + G) (F = federal loans, T = tuition, S = savings, G = grants + scholarships). So he is taking a difference when he should be taking a sum, and then not even making a comparison that makes any sense. I know I am too pedantic for my own good, but it bugs me when people don't take their mathematical responsibilities seriously! I feel like the writer said, "I know these quantities are related somehow, and there's some sort of difference that's important, so let's just throw all those words into a sentence." I guess it's possible that it's the editor's fault.

  3. Sean B says:

    It reads like he started thinking “difference between what they saved and what it costs” but then halfway through he realized he needed to jam the other monies in and lost the plot (or got edited, as you say).

  4. Billikin says:

    I know I am late to the party, but I couldn’t help but remember the old joke:

    Where do they bury the survivors?

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