Dealing with Completely Underlined GMAT Sentence Correction

Completely underlined SC questions often look intimidating on our screens. Something like this Magoosh problem can leave many students a little nervous:

The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles.

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(B) The Talmud, briefly recounting the core story of Hanukkah, with the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, and only Roman Catholic Old Testament contains the two books of the Maccabees, which places this core story in context, unlike the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(D) The core story of Hanukkah involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, appearing briefly in the Talmud, while the events to place this story in context, described in the two books of the Maccabees, which does not appear in the Jewish and Protestant bibles, but instead in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukkah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

Since this is a wordy question that is completely underlined, some students might find it easier to spot the errors and if they “trim the fat” at first, and focus on one of the most obvious keywords the GMAT tests: the “,WHICH”

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(B) The Talmud, briefly recounting the core story of Hanukkah, with the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, and only Roman Catholic Old Testament contains the two books of the Maccabees, which places this core story in context, unlike the Jewish and Protestant bibles

Can the “two books of the Maccabees” “places”? No! We would say “books place” not “books places.” This has a Noun-Verb issue, and we can cross off (B).

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

Can the “two books of the Maccabees” “appear”? Yes! This meaning is logical and the noun-verb agree.

(D) The core story of Hanukkah involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, appearing briefly in the Talmud, while the events to place this story in context, described in the two books of the Maccabees, which does not appear in the Jewish and Protestant bibles, but instead in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

Can the “two books of the Maccabees” “does not appear”? No! We would say “books do appear” not “books does appear.” Like (B), this has a Noun-Verb disagreement, and we can cross (D) off.

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukkah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

Let’s look at our remaining three choices and see if we can spot another “easy” keyword:

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukkah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

I can see both (C) and (E) use the two-part Idiom “NEITHER X NOR Y” — this gives us something obvious to check! Parallelism! :)

In (C) we have “the Jewish” and “Protestant”. If I had my way, we’d add “the” before the word “Protestant,” but the GMAT isn’t anal about articles like “a” and “the” when it comes to Parallelism, so let’s keep it.

In (E), however, we have “in the Jewish bible” in Parallel with “the Protestant bible.” Uh-oh! On the GMAT, prepositions such as “in,” “to,” and “of” matter a LOT in Parallelism! This is dead wrong to include the preposition in one part of the idiom but not in the other part. (note: we could have said “IN neither the Jewish nor the Protestant” and that would’ve been fine.)

So (E) is out.

Getting closer! It’s amazing with such a long question that just TWO rules: knowledge of “which” and knowledge of “neither/nor” parallelism have gotten us down to two! Remember to always look for the “low-hanging fruit”! :)

On to the Final Two! I think these two are both problematic and highly unlikely to be correct options on the actual GMAT, for reasons I get into below. There’s something so weird to me about “the single day’s supply of oil” and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it’s the article “the.” Anyway, I like neither of these choices. Let’s see why:

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

No obvious “deal-breaker” as in (B), (D), and (E), so let’s get nit-picky with meaning and style! Meaning is decent, but I don’t like the insinuation that “events” could be doing the action of “placing this story in context.” It feels like something only people can do. I also don’t like the meaning that it is the “events” that possibly “appear” only in the Old Testament. It seems like it should be more clearly the “two books” that appear. Again, it’s fine, but I don’t like it. Style-wise, I hate the passive structure of “placing this story…are events.” Again, passive voice can sometimes be correct on the GMAT, but this is problematic. I also thing the double-participle of “involving” and “lasting” so close to one another is unusual for the GMAT, and the “instead of” is weird, though will never be the deal-breaker on the actual exam.

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament.

I hate “that lasts” and would much prefer the participle “lasting,” though no one asked me. ;) There’s 4 commas here as opposed to 3 commas in the (A). Clarity is not gained by these extra sub-divisions. “Events that place” is more active than (A), but then the rest of the sentence gets kind of weird, since the idiom should just be “NEITHER X NOR Y” but we’re throwing in this “BUT ONLY” at the end of it, as if it is some weird three-part Idiom.

Based on the active voice alone, (C) wins over (A), but honestly, I don’t think this (A) versus (C) here is a fair representation of the kind of choice you’d make on the actual exam.

Tl;dr — I think (B), (D), and (E) have great teachable take-aways, but I don’t think examining (A) versus (C) here is worthwhile for most students. It’s going to make them overly obsessed with “instead of” and passive voice versus active voice, and honestly, there’s bigger fish to fry on GMAT SC.

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