I’ve got a really interesting GMATPrep® problem for you today. Try it out (1 minute 15 seconds) and then we’ll talk about it!
* The striking differences between the semantic organization of Native American languages and that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have led scholars to think about the degree to which differences in language may be correlated with nonlinguistic differences.
(A) that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have
(B) that of European languages, including grammar and vocabulary, has
(C) those of European languages, which include grammar and vocabulary, have
(D) those of European languages, in grammar as well as vocabulary, has
(E) those of European languages, both in grammar and vocabulary, has
I chose this problem because I wanted to remind myself (and you!) of something that I’ve been forgetting lately. We’ve been focusing a lot on meaning and very long underlines – sentences in which it’s not so easy to find “splits” or differences among the answer choices. I wanted to remind myself that sometimes they do give us some easier clues to figure out what’s going on… as long as we’re paying attention to the right things.
The process that we’re going to discuss below is my first, ideal process – if I can use this method, I will. On the more convoluted sentences – in particular, those with serious meaning issues, which often tend to have large chunks of the sentence changing – well, okay, I’ll use the techniques that we’ve discussed in other articles. But those techniques are harder to execute and tend to take longer, so I want to use the most streamlined process whenever I can.
Okay, let’s talk about the problem. My first reaction to the original sentence was: well, that’s kind of a mouthful, but nothing is immediately jumping out at me as “Wrong!” I noticed that the underline starts with “that of” and ends with “have,” so I decided that I would examine those two areas first.
The “that of European languages” bit is a clue that I’ve probably got some kind of comparison going on. Sure enough, when I looked earlier in the sentence, I saw “the striking differences between” X and Y.
Great, here’s a good starting point. Comparisons have to compare “apples to apples” – that is, the X and the Y have to be the same kind of thing. In the original sentence, we have:
The striking differences between X (the semantic organization of Native American languages) and Y (that of European languages)…
The X is clean; the Y starts with a pronoun. What noun is the pronoun replacing? Semantic organization, I think. Let me glance at the answers to see what my other options are… oh, I see. Answers C, D, and E all say “those” instead of “that.” Plural instead of singular. Okay, so C, D, and E appear to be referring back to the plural noun “differences.”
Which one is the counterpart to X: striking differences or semantic organization?
Semantic organization is actually part of the X – so it’s the correct counterpart. Striking differences is the comparison clue: it’s the language that indicates that we have a comparison. It is not, however, the X or the Y.
Okay, so we want to say “that of,” not “those of,” since semantic organization is singular. Cross off C, D, and E.
What next? Oh, right, the underline ended on the word “have.” Let’s check the answer choices… a split between have and has. Great! This is a subject-verb agreement issue. What’s the subject?
It can be helpful to strip the sentence down to the same core that we used up above when we were trying to figure out the comparison structure:
The striking differences between X and Y have / has led scholars…
The word “differences” is plural, so we want the plural verb “have.” Cross off answer B and we’re done!
Note that we didn’t even touch the words in the middle (“in both grammar and vocabulary”). If we had chosen to attack that part, we wouldn’t have been able to be nearly as efficient because all 5 answer choices are different in this area. Contrast that with the two differences that we did examine (that vs. those and have vs. has); we had only two options for each, so as soon as we decided, we were able to cross off multiple incorrect answers.
The correct answer is A.
Key Takeaways for “Normal” Sentence Correction
(1) Yes, there are a lot of annoying SCs with long underlines, big parts of the sentence changing, and confusing meaning issues. But you will also get other, more straightforward problems, even if you’re doing really well. This question was my 8th on a GMATPrep section in which I answered the first 7 correctly – so this is by no means an easy question.
(2) Pay attention to where the underline begins and ends and start asking yourself: are there any patterns or clues here? When an underline starts on a pronoun, I know immediately to start thinking about pronoun or pronoun-related issues (such as comparisons). When an underline ends on a verb, I immediately know I’m going to need to check subject-verb agreement or verb tense.
(3) Next, compare those answers! As soon as I examined the pronoun issue, I saw that it was a question of singular vs. plural and I needed to find the antecedent. Ditto the verb issue: the have / has split immediately told me I needed to go find that subject.
* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.