Parallel Idioms on the GMAT: WHETHER X…OR Y

Set a timer for 2-min and try this problem. See if you can identify the correct parallel structure.

Historians and economists have disagreed about whether the 1929 collapse of stock prices caused the international catastrophe known as the Great Depression or did it simply reflect the underlying weakness of the United States economy.

A. did it simply reflect the underlying weakness of
B. simply reflected the underlying weakness of
C. was simply reflecting the weakness underlying
D. if it was simply reflecting the weakness underlying
E. whether it simply reflected the weakness which underlay

Usually with “whether” we get a parallel structure: WHETHER X…OR Y, and we are looking for two Parallel verbs. We don’t need to repeat the word “whether” in the second-part of the idiom.

EX: Whether I will go to the store or visit the mall.

But also the modifiers could be parallel:

EX: Whether he studies today or tomorrow, he will still do well on the exam. (Here it’s understood the “studies” applies to the second part of the idiom, so we don’t have to repeat it.)

Anyway, let’s look at choice (A):

Historians and economists have disagreed about whether the 1929 collapse of stock prices caused the international catastrophe known as the Great Depression or did it simply reflect the underlying weakness of the United States economy.

Let’s strip out some non-essentials:

Historians and economists have disagreed about whether the collapse caused… or did it reflect….

As written we have “collapse caused” parallel with “did it reflect.” This is not perfectly parallel, and we should look for a better option.

(B) gives is to us by placing “reflected” in parallel with “caused” without screwing up the nice idiomatic structure of “WHETHER X…OR Y….” :cool:

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