Modifier Madness: Breaking Down a GMATPrep Sentence Correction Problem

Stacey Koprince —  November 8, 2012 — 15 Comments

This week, we’re going to analyze a particularly tough GMATPrepSentence Correction question.

First, set your timer for 1 minute and 15 seconds and try the problem!

Research has shown that when speaking, individuals who have been blind from birth and have thus never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do, and that they will gesture even when conversing with another blind person.

A) have thus never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do, and that

B) have thus never seen anyone gesture but nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way that sighted people do, and

C) have thus never seen anyone gesture, that they nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do, and

D) thus they have never seen anyone gesture, but nonetheless they make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way that sighted people do, and that

E) thus they have never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make hand motions just as frequently and in the same way that sighted people do, and

 

Okay, have you got your answer? Now, let’s dive into this thing! What did you think when you read the original sentence?GMAT modifier

This is a very tough problem; when I read the sentence the first time, I actually had to stop and try to strip the sentence down to its basic core, then figure out how the modifiers fit. Until I did that, I couldn’t go any further.

First, we have research has shown, a subject-verb pair. That’s the start of the core. The research has shown some things. What are those things (in simple form)? In the following sentence, the words in <brackets> are my simplification of the sentence; these words do not represent the original sentence.

Research has shown THAT when speaking, <certain>1 individuals nonetheless make hand motions <in a certain way>2, and THAT <when speaking>3 they will gesture <in another way>4

1<certain> takes the place of who have been blind from birth and have thus never seen anyone gesture.

2<in a certain way> takes the place of just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do.

3<when speaking> is implied by parallelism; this second thing is something that occurs when speaking, just as the first thing is something that occurs when speaking. This parallelism is indicated by the second instance of the word that and is reinforced by the pronoun they, which refers to the subject (individuals) of the first that clause.

4<in another way> takes the place of even when conversing with another blind person.

So what we’ve really got is:

Research has shown THAT when speaking,  <certain> individuals nonetheless make <certain> hand motions, and THAT they will gesture <in a certain way>.

Simplify that even more:

Research has shown THAT X, and THAT Y. (X and Y are parallel and are both things that the research has shown.)

In the original sentence, the main word in X is individuals and the main word in Y is they, so we already have proper parallelism.

Are the other four choices also correct just at the core level of the sentence? Part of the core is not underlined: Research has shown THAT X. We know, then, that the Y part should be introduced with another THAT (in order to indicate that these two parts, X and Y, should be parallel). Choices B, C, and E all omit the THAT in front of Y, so they are not correct.

D also uses the core structure and THAT Y, so D is okay as far as that issue is concerned. How do the rest of A and D compare? A begins have thus never seen while D begins thus they have never seen. What’s the major difference? D includes the subject they while A omits a subject. Do we want a subject here? Now we need to dive into one of the modifiers.

individuals who have been blind from birth and have thus never seen anyone gesture nonetheless make

As we discussed earlier, individuals is a subject; the matching verb is make: individuals nonetheless make <certain> hand motions. The words in between individuals and nonetheless are modifiers “ and because we have two separate modifiers connected by the word and, we need to make those two modifiers parallel.

Individuals who J and K nonetheless make

A: Individuals who [have been blind from birth] and [have thus never seen anyone gesture] nonetheless make

D: Individuals who [have been blind from birth] and [thus they have never seen anyone gesture], but nonetheless they make

So, are they both properly parallel? The J modifier is not part of the underline, so we know that the structure of K has to match the existing structure of J. J’s main construction is a verb in the present-perfect tense, so K should have the same structure. In choice A, K does begin with a present-perfect verb, but in choice D, K beings with a noun (they). That’s not parallel. Eliminate D.

Now, we’re down to one answer choice. The correct answer is A.

There are other ways we could have eliminated answers. For example, choices B and D both use the phrase but nonetheless to indicate a contrast. Each word indicates a contrast by itself, so using both words together is redundant.

There’s another split between just as frequently and in the same way as and just as frequently and in the same way that. Which one is right? The word and once again indicates parallelism, so there’s something parallel about the part before and the part after the and. Try each part individually.

She runs just as frequently as he skis. That’s fine. Can we say She runs just as frequently he skis? No “ we need that second as after the word frequently. The full phrase is just as frequently as. So that’s why we have parallelism in this sentence! In the structure just as frequently and in the same way as, the second as applies to both parts (just as frequently as and in the same way as). We can’t use just as frequently and in the same way than because that would leave us with either just as frequently (with no second as) or just as frequently than “ neither of which is correct.

The major take-aways here:

(1) when doing SC, first attack the errors that you know how to do and reuse your prior analysis as much as you can; you may not have to use all of the errors / differences in order to find the right answer!

(2) scan SC answer choices vertically to find differences; don’t read horizontally

(3) know how to recognize and properly construct noun modifiers and adverbial modifiers

(4) watch out for parallelism markers “ the markers are often little words but they can make a big difference!

* GMATPrep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

Stacey Koprince

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Stacey Koprince is an Instructor and Trainer as well as the Director of Online Community for Manhattan Prep. She's also a management consultant who specializes in corporate strategy. She has been teaching various standardized tests for more than fifteen years and her entire teaching philosophy can be summed up in five words: teaching students how to think.

15 responses to Modifier Madness: Breaking Down a GMATPrep Sentence Correction Problem

  1. Insightful as always, great read for GMAT takers !

  2. Stacy –

    Can you kindly elaborate on how you summarized at the second part of THAT in “Research has shown THAT when speaking, 1 individuals nonetheless make hand motions 2, and THAT 3 they will gesture 4.” The original sentence has “and that THEY WILL GESTURE even when conversing with another blind person.”. I’m not clear on how we can term it parallel if what follows THAT is ‘when speaking’ and ‘they will gesture’.

    • Ah – be careful. Parallelism isn’t as rigid as you think it is – it doesn’t mean that the word right after the “that” is the parallel word (and, actually, it also doesn’t mean that the structure needs to be 100% identical). You could have, for example, two verbs that are in different tenses, as long as the meaning of the sentence allows that structure (though this is unusual because most parallel sentence structures will end up wanting to talk about the two things in the same tense).

      In this case, we’ve got a parallel structure beginning with the word “that”: Research has shown THAT X and THAT Y.” The first one, X, tosses in a modifier right after the word “that”: when speaking. But that’s not actually what’s being made parallel to the Y portion of the sentence!

      In fact, there are many modifiers here. Look at this:

      Research has shown THAT (when speaking,) INDIVIDUALS (who have been blind from birth and have thus never seen anyone gesture nonetheless) MAKE (hand) MOTIONS (just as frequently and in the same way as sighted people do,) AND THAT THEY WILL GESTURE (even when conversing with another blind person.)

      The stuff in parentheses = modifiers. The stuff in caps = the core of the sentence.

      So we’ve got THAT X (individuals make) and THAT Y (they will gesture). Two parallel clauses with a main subject and verb. Even better, the pronoun “they” in Y refers back to the subject “individuals” in X: individuals make and (the same) individuals will gesture. Really nice example of parallelism there. :)

  3. Hi, Stacey^^!

    You said both B and D is wrong partly because the improper use of “but nonetheless”. And both two words indicate a contrast, so using them together is redundant.

    Here is a correct sentence quoted from MANHATTAN SC 5TH.
    “Dr. Crock’s claims have not been corroborated by other scientists or published in a prestigious journal but have nonetheless garnered a great deal of attention from the public.”

    Both but and nonetheless are used in the sentence above.
    But why does that sentence not have such problem of redundancy?

    Thanks in advance><!!

    • Ah, okay – good question. You can use the two words together if you want to emphasize or reinforce the “negativeness” of the aspect that you’re discussing. When that happens, though, the common usage is to separate the “but” and the “nonetheless” as the sentence from our book did.

      I planned to study all night but I went out nonetheless when my friend called.

      Think of it (meaning-wise) as: but I went out anyway.

      The second usage reinforces the negation – but the reinforcement has to come later (at least 1 word in between). Using the second negative immediately after the first doesn’t actually “remind us” again of the negative. It’s just… still the first negative. Also note that the word “nonetheless” is an adverb, so you’d most often / most likely expect to find it next to / close to a verb.

      Tricky point!

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