What to Expect on the GMAT
24. Avoid jargon and pretentious language
S e n t e n c e S t r u c t u r e
The best place to begin a grammar review is with the basics of sentence construction. Although you will not need to diagram a sentence on the GMAT exam, understanding the fundamentals of sentence structure can help you better remember the rules of grammar and style.
Sentence structure refers to the way sentences are composed: how subjects, verbs, objects, and modi-fiers are strung together in clauses and phrases. Awkward or incorrect placement of phrases and clauses can result in sentences that are confusing, unclear, or say things that you do not mean. Indeed, many sentences on the GMAT exam will be wrong precisely because of misplaced sentence elements. Sentence structure is also important to style. If sentence structure is too simple or repetitive, the writing becomes monotonous for the reader. (Style will be addressed later in this section.)
Subjects, Predicates, and Objects
The sentence is the basic unit of written expression. It consists of two essential parts—a subject and a pred-icate—and it must express a complete thought. The subject of a sentence tells the reader who or what the sen-tence is about—who or what is performing the action of the sensen-tence. The predicate tells the reader something about the subject—what the subject is or does. Consider the following sentence:
The clock is ticking.
The word clock is the subject. It tells you what the sentence is about—who or what performs the action of the sentence. The verb phrase is ticking is the predicate. It tells you the action performed by (or informa-tion about) the subject.
The subject of a sentence can be singular or compound (plural):
I slept all day. Kendrick and I worked all night.
singular subject compound subject (two subjects performing the action)
The predicate can also be singular or compound:
I received a bonus. I received a bonus and got a raise.
singular predicate compound predicate (two actions performed by the subject)
Subject-predicate is the fundamental word order of sentences. When this order is reversed, the result is an awkward and perhaps unclear sentence such as the following:
A bonus I received.
In such a short sentence, the meaning is often clear despite the awkward word order. However, in longer sentences, when the subject and predicate are reversed, the sentence can be quite confusing, as in the following sentence from the pretest:
Creating a fundamental shift in American foreign policy and establishing a “policy of containment” that framed our foreign policy as a battle between the forces of good (America and other democratic soci-eties) and evil (the Soviet Union and other communist nations), was the 1947 Truman Doctrine.
In many sentences, someone or something “receives” the action expressed in the predicate. This person or thing is called the direct object. In the following sentences, the subject and predicate are separated by a slash (/) and the direct object is underlined:
I / bought a present. (The present receives the action of being bought.) Jane / loves ice cream. (Ice cream receives the action of being loved by Jane.)
Sentences can also have an indirect object: a person or thing who “receives” the direct object. In the fol-lowing sentences, the direct object is underlined and the indirect object is in bold:
I / gave Sunil a raise. (Sunil receives the raise; the raise receives the action of being given.) The student / asked the professor a question. (The professor receives the question; the question
receives the action of being asked.)
Rule #1: Follow the basic subject-predicate word order for sentences: subject, verb, indirect object, and direct object.
Independent and Dependent Clauses
A clause contains a subject and a predicate and may also have direct and indirect objects. An independent clause expresses a complete thought; it can stand on its own as a sentence. A dependent clause, on the other hand, cannot stand alone because it expresses an incomplete idea. When a dependent clause stands alone, it results in a sentence fragment.
Independent clause: She was excited.
Dependent clause: Because she was excited.
Notice that the dependent clause is incomplete; it needs an additional thought to make a complete sentence:
She spoke very quickly because she was excited.
The independent clause, however, can stand alone. It is a complete thought.
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A subordinating conjunction such as the word because makes a dependent clause dependent. Subordinating conjunctions connect clauses and help show the relationship between those clauses. The following is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions:
after even though that when
although if though where
as, as if in order that unless wherever
because once until while
When a clause begins with a subordinating conjunction, it is dependent. It must be connected to an independent clause to become a complete thought:
I never knew true happiness until I met you.
independent clause dependent clause
After Johnson quit, I had to work extra overtime.
dependent clause independent clause
A very common grammar mistake is to think that words such as however and therefore are subordinating con-junctions. But however and therefore belong to a group of words called conjunctive adverbs, which also sig-nal relationships between parts of a sentence. When they are used with a semicolon, they can combine independent clauses. The following is a list of the most common conjunctive adverbs:
also indeed now
anyway instead otherwise
besides likewise similarly
certainly meanwhile still
finally moreover then
furthermore namely therefore
however nevertheless thus
incidentally next undoubtedly
I did not go to the party; instead, I stayed home and watched a good film.
Samantha is a fabulous cook; indeed, she may even be better than Jacque.
I need to pay this bill immediately. Otherwise, my phone service will be cut off.
COMPOUND SENTENCES AND COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS
When two independent clauses are combined, the result is a compound sentence such as the following:
He was late, so he lost the account.
The most common way to join two independent clauses is with a comma and a coordinating con-junction: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet. Independent clauses can also be joined with a semicolon if the ideas in the sentences are closely related:
I am tall, and he is short. [IC, coordinating conjunction IC]
I am tall; he is short. [IC; IC]
I was late, yet I still got the account. [IC, coordinating conjunction IC]
Expressing complete ideas and clearly indicating where sentences begin and end are essential to effective writ-ing. Two of the most common grammatical errors with sentence boundaries are fragments and run-ons.
INCOMPLETE SENTENCES (FRAGMENTS)
As stated earlier, a complete sentence must (1) have both a subject (who or what performs the action) and a verb (a state of being or an action) and (2) express a complete thought. If you don’t complete a thought, or if you are missing a subject or verb (or both), then you have an incomplete sentence (also called a sentence fragment). To correct a fragment, add the missing subject or verb or otherwise change the sentence to com-plete the thought.
Incomplete: Which is simply not true. (No subject. Which is not a subject.) Complete: That is simply not true.
Incomplete: For example, the French Revolution. (No verb.) Complete: The best example is the French Revolution.
Incomplete: Even though the polar icecaps are melting. (Subject and verb, but not a complete thought.)
Complete: Some people still do not believe in global warming even though the polar icecaps are melting.
Rule #2: Make sure sentences have both a subject and a predicate and express a complete thought.
A run-on sentence occurs when one sentence “runs” right into the next without proper punctuation between them. Usually, the sentence has no punctuation at all or it has just a comma between the two thoughts (called a comma splice). But commas alone are not strong enough to separate two complete ideas. See the examples
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Let us go it is getting late.
I aced the interview, I should get the job.
Whether or not you believe me it is true, I did not lie to you.
You can correct run-on sentences in five ways:
■ with a period
■ with a comma and a coordinating conjunction: and, or, nor, for, so, but, or yet
■ with a semicolon
■ with a dash
■ with a subordinating conjunction to create a dependent clause: although, because, during, while, and so on
The following is a run-on sentence corrected with each of the previous techniques:
The debate is over, now it is time to vote.
PUNCTUATION CORRECTED SENTENCE
period The debate is over. Now it is time to vote.
comma conjunction The debate is over, and now it is time to vote.
semicolon The debate is over; now it is time to vote.
dash The debate is over—now it is time to vote.
subordinating conjunction Since the debate is over, it is time to vote.
Rule #3: Respect sentence boundaries. Do not let two or more independent clauses run together.
Phrases and Modifiers
Sentences are often “filled out” by phrases and modifiers. Phrases are groups of words that do not have both a subject and predicate; they might have either a subject or a verb, but not both, and sometimes neither. Mod-ifiers are words and phrases that qualify or describe people, places, things, and actions. The most common phrases are prepositional phrases, which consist of a preposition and a noun or pronoun (e.g., in the attic).
Modifiers include adjectives (e.g., slow, blue, excellent) and adverbs (e.g., cheerfully, suspiciously). In the fol-lowing examples, the prepositional phrases are underlined and the modifiers are in bold:
He was very late for an important meeting with a new client.
He brazenly looked through her purse when she got up from the table to go to the ladies’ room.
PLACEMENT OF MODIFIERS
As a general rule, words, phrases, or clauses that describe nouns and pronouns should be as close as possible to the words they describe. The relaxing music, for example, is better (clearer, more concise, and more pre-cise) than the music that is relaxing. In the first sentence, the modifier relaxing is right next to the word it mod-ifies (music).
When modifiers are not next to the words they describe, you not only often use extra words, but you also might end up with a misplaced or dangling modifier and a sentence that means something other than what was intended. This is especially true of phrases and clauses that work as modifiers. Take a look at the following sentence:
Whispering quietly, I heard the children stealing cookies from the cookie jar.
Who was whispering quietly? Because the modifier whispering quietly is next to I, the sentence says that I was doing the whispering. But the context of the sentence indicates that it was the children who were doing the whispering. Here are three corrected versions. In the first version, the modifier is moved to its proper place, next to children. In the second and third versions, I is removed from the sentence to eliminate any confusion:
I heard the children whispering quietly as they stole cookies from the cookie jar.
The children, whispering quietly, stole cookies from the cookie jar.
Whispering quietly, the children stole cookies from the cookie jar as I listened.
Here’s another example:
Worn and tattered, Uncle Joe took down the flag.
It’s quite obvious that it was the flag, not Uncle Joe, that was worn and tattered. But because the mod-ifier (worn and tattered) isn’t right next to what it modifies (the flag), the sentence actually says that Uncle Joe was worn and tattered. Here are two corrected versions. The first simply puts the modifier in its proper place. The second moves the modifier and puts it in a restrictive clause (a which clause) that clarifies what is modified:
Uncle Joe took down the worn and tattered flag.
Uncle Joe took down the flag, which was worn and tattered.
Rule #4: Keep modifiers as close as possible to the words they modify.
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A word’s function and form is determined by its part of speech. The word calm, for example, can be either a verb (calm down) or an adjective (a calm afternoon); it changes to calmly when it is an adverb (they discussed the matter calmly). Be sure you know the different parts of speech and the job each part of speech performs in a sentence. The following table offers a quick reference guide for the main parts of speech.
PART OF SPEECH FUNCTION EXAMPLES
noun names a person, place, thing, water, Byron, telephone, Main Street,
or concept tub, virtue
pronoun takes the place of a noun so that I, you, he, she, us, they, this, that, noun does not have to be repeated themselves, somebody, who, which
verb expresses an action, occurrence, wait, seem, be, visit, renew or state of being
helping verb combines with other verbs (main forms of be, do and have; can, (also called auxiliary verb) verbs) to create verb phrases that could, may, might, must, shall,
help indicate tenses should, will, would
adjective modifies nouns and pronouns; can green, round, old, surprising; that also identify or quantify (e.g., that elephant); several (e.g.,
adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, other dreamily, quickly, always, very, then adverbs, or entire clauses
preposition expresses the relationship in time in, on, around, above, between, or space between words in a sentence underneath, beside, with, upon
Prepositions are extremely important; they help us understand how objects relate to each other in space and time. Recognizing them can help you quickly check for subject-verb agreement and other grammar issues. The following is a list of the most common prepositions. See pages 127–128 for notes about the most common prepositional idioms.
about above across after
against around at before
behind below beneath beside
Parts of Speech: A Brief Review
besides between beyond by
down during except for
from in inside into
like near of off
on out outside over
since through throughout till
to toward under until
up upon with without
Parallel structure means that words and phrases in a sentence follow the same grammatical pattern. When-ever a sentence has a series of actions, a list of items, or a not only/but also construction, it should have par-allel structure. Parpar-allelism makes ideas easier to follow and expresses ideas more gracefully. Notice how parallelism works in the following examples:
Not parallel: We came, we saw, and it was conquered by us. (The first two clauses use the active we past tense verb construction; the third uses a passive structure with a prepositional phrase.) Parallel: We came, we saw, we conquered. (All three clauses start with we and use a past tense verb.) Not parallel: Please be sure to throw out your trash, place your silverware in the bin, and your tray
should go on the counter. (Two verbs follow the to verb your noun pattern; the third puts the noun first and then the verb.)
Parallel: Please be sure to throw out your trash, place your silverware in the pin, and put your tray on the counter. (All three items follow the to verb your noun prepositional phrase pattern.)
The following are two more examples of sentences with correct parallel structure:
Hermione’s nervousness was exacerbated not only by the large crowd but also by the bright lights. (Each phrase has a preposition, an adjective, and a noun.)
Their idea was not only the most original; it was also the most practical. (Each phrase uses the superla-tive form of an adjecsuperla-tive [see page 126 for more information on superlasuperla-tives].)
Rule #5: Use parallel structure for any series of actions or items or the not only/but also construction.
G r a m m a r a n d U s a g e
Grammar and usage refer to the rules that govern the forms of words people use and the special combina-tions of words that create specific meanings. In this section, you will review the following areas of basic gram-mar and usage:
■ subject-verb agreement
■ consistent verb tense
■ pronoun cases
■ pronoun agreement
■ pronoun consistency
■ adjectives and adverbs
In English grammar, agreement means that sentence elements are balanced. Verbs, for example, should agree in number with their subjects. If the subject is singular, the verb should be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb should be plural.
Incorrect: Robin want to meet us later. (singular subject, plural verb) Correct: Robin wants to meet us later. (singular subject, singular verb) Incorrect: He do whatever he want. (singular subject, plural verbs) Correct: He does whatever he wants. (singular subject, singular verbs)
Of course, to make sure subjects and verbs agree, you need to be clear about who or what is the subject of the sentence. This can be tricky in sentences with indefinite pronouns and in inverted sentences. Use the following guidelines for proper subject-verb agreement:
■ Remember that subjects are never found in prepositional phrases, so the subject must be elsewhere in the sentence. Sometimes the subject is the antecedent of a noun found in a prepositional phrase, as in the following example:
Only one of the students was officially registered for the class.
The pronoun one is the subject of the sentence, not students, because students is part of the preposi-tional phrase of the students. The verb must therefore be singular (was).
■ If a compound, singular subject is connected by and, the verb must be plural.
Both Vanessa and Xui want to join the committee.
■ If a compound, singular subject is connected by or or nor, the verb must be singular.
If English is your second language, a quick review of verb conjugation and usage rules might be in order. Turn to Chapter 11 for an overview of verb forms, a list of irregular verbs, and a review of troublesome verbs such as lay/lie.
■ If one plural and one singular subject are connected by or or nor, the verb agrees with the closest subject.
Neither Vanessa nor the treasurers want to join the committee.
Neither the treasurers nor Vanessa wants to join the committee.
■ In an inverted sentence, the subject comes after the verb, so the first step is to clearly identify the sub-ject. (Sentences that begin with there is and there are, for example, and questions are inverted sen-tences.) Once you correctly identify the subject, then you can make sure your verb agrees. The correct subjects and verbs are underlined in the following examples:
Incorrect: There is plenty of reasons to go.
Correct: There are plenty of reasons to go.
Incorrect: Here is the results you have been waiting for.
Correct: Here are the results you have been waiting for.
Incorrect: What is the side effects of this medication?
Correct: What are the side effects of this medication?
Rule #6: Make sure verbs agree in number with their subjects.
One of the quickest ways to confuse readers, especially if you are telling a story or describing an event, is to shift verb tenses. To help readers be clear about when actions occur, make sure verb tenses are consistent. If you begin telling the story in the present tense, for example, stay in the present tense; do not mix tenses as you write. Otherwise, you will leave your readers wondering whether actions are taking place in the present or took place in the past:
Incorrect: She left the house and forgets her keys again.
Correct: She left the house and forgot her keys again.
Incorrect: When we work together, we got better results.
Correct: When we work together, we get better results.
When we worked together, we got better results.
Pronouns, as noted earlier, replace nouns, so you don’t have to repeat names and objects over and over. There are several different kinds of pronouns, and each kind of pronoun follows different rules.
Personal pronouns refer to specific people or things. They can be either singular (I) or plural (we); they can be subjects (I) or objects (me). Pronouns reflect three points of view: first person (I, we), second person (you), and third person (he, she, it, them).
SUBJECT OBJECT POINT OF VIEW
singular I me first person
singular I me first person