Possessives on GMAT Sentence Correction

In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Franklin Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act has a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

A. Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act has
B. Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
C. Roosevelt’s have argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
D. Roosevelt argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
E. Roosevelt had argued that his proposed Social Security Act has

In the first phrase, we get a great clue about what time period these colleagues lived: the “latter years of the Great Depression.” This is obviously in the PAST, so we need the action that the colleagues did to be a past tense verb. Answer choice (C) is present perfect tense (used to describe something that started in the past and CONTINUE to the present. But these colleagues are dead now, so how can they still be arguing?)

In (E) we have Past Perfect, which is a kind of past tense, BUT we only use this tense to describe an event that occurred before a Simple Past Tense event. In (E), “has” is not past tense, and even if it were, the meaning wouldn’t make sense. The colleagues didn’t argue BEFORE the Social Security Act had a chance of success.

So, now we know it has to be (A), (B), or (D). Since (A) also uses the word “has” and we discussed this in (E), we can eliminate this, too.

Let’s focus on the differences of the Final Two:

(B) In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act had a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

(D) In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Roosevelt argued that his proposed Social Security Act had a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

Wow! Only one difference. :) So what do we know about the use of possessives? When a noun turns into a possessive, it becomes a modifier.

EX: Jill won the soccer game.
Meaning: Jill is the one who won.

EX: Jill’s team won the soccer game.
Meaning: The TEAM won, and “Jill’s” just describes the team.

So in (B), if “Roosevelt’s” is now a modifier, the question becomes, what is it modifying? The only logical option is “colleagues.” So the meaning of (B) is “colleagues of Roosevelt’s colleagues.” Um…what? That’s redundant.

The correct answer is (D).

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“Team” – Is it Singular or Plural?

Collective nouns, in language, refer to a collection of things taken as a whole. Since they are taken as a whole, or one unit, they are almost always singular.

Even though the Mt. Everest team began the expedition with more provisions than they had in any previous year, its food lasted through only the first twelve days of the climb.

A. they had in any previous year

B. their previous years had had

C. they had for any previous year

D. in their previous years

E. it had in any previous year

“Team” is singular on the GMAT, a collective noun, so we can eliminate (A), (B), (C), and (D) right away. This should be an easy-question for anyone who has a good grasp on Pronouns. They even give you the clue “it” in the non-underlined portion at the end. Don’t ever take the non-underlined for granted! :)

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.

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:

When Concepts Collide: GMAT Verb Tenses and Meaning

Let’s look at an interesting problem from Powerscore that tests two concepts layered into one question: Verb Tenses and Meaning!

Set a timer for 2-min and give this one a go!

Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina, a decision that ultimately led to the invention of the cotton gin and a revolution of the cotton industry.

A) had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina

B) planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina

C) had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney was forced to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina to pay his college debt

D) planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney had college debt so it forced him into accepting a private tutoring job in South Carolina

E) had planned on pursuing a law degree, college debt forced Eli Whitney to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina

This is a good question to teach “Past Perfect” tense. On the GMAT, we use past perfect tense (“had” + verb) to describe an action that happened in the past BEFORE another past tense action.

The two actions here are: Eli planned on pursuing a law degree. Eli’s debt forced him to accept a job.

Both of these things happened in the past, and they clearly did not happen simultaneously, so logically, which one happened first? Was he FORCED and then he PLANNED, or was he PLANNED and then he was FORCED? The latter is the most logical meaning.

So we want the 1st verb “planned” to be in Past Perfect tense, and the 2nd verb “forced” to be in Simple Past tense. (B) and (D) are out.

Let’s strip back the remaining three options and take a hard look:

(A) Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney’s college debt forced him to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina, a decision….

(C) Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, Eli Whitney was forced to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina to pay his college debt, a decision….

(E) Although he had planned on pursuing a law degree, college debt forced Eli Whitney to accept a private tutoring job in South Carolina, a decision….

In (A) and (E), the “college debt” is forcing Eli to do something. Is it logical for something inanimate to do the action of “forcing”?? No! Also, this makes it sound, in (E) especially, that the college debt’s forcefulness was “a decision,” as if the college debt is making active choices FOR Eli Whitney?

(C) has no grammar error and no illogical meaning.

On the GMAT, we want to avoid sentences in which inanimate things are doing “human actions.” I’m reminded of this SC question and these two answer choices:

In an effort to reduce the number of fires started by cigarettes, a major tobacco company is test-marketing a cigarette in which thin layers of extra paper are used to decrease the amount of oxygen entering the cigarette, thereby slowing the rate at which it burns and lowering the heat it generates.

B) in which they use thin layers of extra paper in decreasing the amount of oxygen entering the cigarette, which slows

This choice makes is sound like the “cigarette” is actively doing the “slowing the rate at which is burns.” How can a cigarette slow its own rate??

C) that uses thin layers of extra paper to decrease the amount of oxygen when it enters the cigarette, thereby slowing

This choice makes it sound like the “cigarette” is actively doing the action of “using thin layers.” So…the cigarette is using its own layers??

It’s kind of funny how often inanimate things try to do human-actions on the GMAT. :)

Parallel Idioms on the GMAT

Check out this question from Kaplan:

The works of Isaac Newton reveal that his scientific insights usually came about not in a burst of insight but developed gradually from his studies of the previous accomplishments of scientists and mathematicians.

A) came about not in a burst of insight but developed gradually
B) came about not in a burst of insight but were gradually developed
C) did not come about in a burst of insight but developed gradually
D) did not come about in a burst of insight but had gradually developed
E) did not come about in a burst of insight but they were gradually developed

The parallelism idiom being tested here is “Not X…but Y”, so let’s look at each possible parallel structure:

(A) NOT in a burst of insight BUT developed gradually
(B) NOT in a burst… BUT were developed
(C) NOT come about…BUT developed
(D) NOT come about…BUT had developed
(E) NOT come about…BUT they were

We can see right from the start that (A), (B), and (E) have no chance. (A) has the first part of the idiom use the preposition “in” but drops it in the second part of the idiom, as does (B). (E) tries to put a verb “come” in parallel with a pronoun “they.” The GMAT hates inserting pronouns to break up parallelism.

(C) and (D) correctly use verbs, but the tenses are different. (C) is more parallel with “come” and therefore correct. With (D), we would only use the past perfect tense if we were discussing two past tense events, and we had to make it clear that one event completed in the past before another past tense event started.

Remember: When you have two verbs and one is a simple tense and the other is more complicated, unless you can justify why you NEED the more complex verb, stick to what is simpler and, in this case, most parallel.

Things the GMAT Does Not Like: “Because of” + NOUN + -ing

becauseSince the word “of” is a preposition, when we add it behind “Because” it limits what we can have afterwards to a noun.

On the GMAT, “Because” and “Because of” are NOT interchangeable!!!

We use “Because” to describe an entire clause. For example:

CORRECT: Because Ft. Sumter was attacked, the Civil War began.

The bold section (everything between the “Because” and the comma, is an independent clause and could stand on its own as a complete sentence. The word “Because” is describing that entire action. BECAUSE this action occurred, something else occurred.

Let’s look at the sentence if we tried to use “Because of” instead of “Because”:

INCORRECT: Because of  Ft. Sumter was attacked, the Civil War began. 

Hopefully you can hear just how “wrong” that sounds! If we’re describing an entire action and using an independent clause, we need only “Because.”

“Because of” should describe a NOUN only. 

CORRECT: Because of his complete lack of remorse, the criminal was given a harsher sentence.

“His complete lack of remorse” is a noun phrase, so “Because of” is used correctly.

One thing the GMAT does not like is sentences that attempt to use “Because of” + NOUN + an “-ing” verb. This construction is incorrect, since, as we have seen, “Because of” is best used with just a noun.

Example: “Because of the Senator attending the event …” = WRONG!
Example: “Because of the girl winning the sports competition…” = WRONG!
Example: “Because of Alex getting a 700 on the GMAT…” = WRONG!
Example: “Because of the cat sleeping all day…” = WRONG!

We would want these ideas to be expressed with just “Because,” and change the verb to make logical sense:

Example: “Because the Senator is attending the event,…” = RIGHT!
Example: “Because the girl had won the sports competition…” = RIGHT!
Example: “Because Alex got a 700 on the GMAT…” = RIGHT!
Example: “Because the cat had slept all day…” = RIGHT!

Let’s look at a practice question that uses this structure:

Because of the broker having a portfolio of losses, he will most likely be let go from the firm.

(A) Because of the broker having
(B) Because of the broker having had
(C) Because the broker having had
(D) Because the broker has
(E) Because of the broker had been having

(A) and (B) both attempt to put the participle (-ing) verb immediately after the noun “the broker.” The GMAT does not approve of this! Therefore, (A) and (B) are incorrect.

(E) is also incorrect (not least of all because its verb tense makes no sense).

Only (C) and (D) are options. They now use “Because” so what follows must be an independent clause. Let’s examine both sentences, and highlight the section between the “Because” and the comma:

(C) Because the broker having had a portfolio of losses, he will most likely be let go from the firm.
(D) Because the broker has a portfolio of losses, he will most likely be let go from the firm.

Only (D) puts something that could stand on its own as a complete sentence after the “Because.” Therefore, the correct answer is (D).