Can you Spot the Meaning Error? (part 3)

Stacey Koprince —  May 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

Sentence-correction-part-3-gmatWelcome to the final installment in a series of three articles about meaning and sentence structure in sentence correction. Our first one tested meaning and also covered issues related to having to break the sentence into chunks. In the second, we talked about how to use that chunk idea to strip the sentence down to the core structure vs. the modifiers.

Today, I’ve got a third GMATPrep® problem for you following some of these same themes (I’m not going to tell you which ones till after you’ve tried the problem!).

* “Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars more fuel-efficient now than at any time in their production history.

“(A) small cars more fuel-efficient now than at any time in their

“(B) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than they were at any time in their

“(C) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in

“(D) more fuel-efficient small cars than those at any other time in their

“(E) more fuel-efficient small cars now than at any time in”

The first glance doesn’t indicate a lot this time. The answers change from small cars to more (fuel-efficient small cars), which isn’t much of a clue. Go ahead and read the original sentence.

What did you think? When I first read it, I shrugged and thought, “That sounds okay.” If you can’t come up with something to tackle from the first glance or the first read-through, then compare answers (A) and (B), looking for differences.

Hmm. I see—do we need to say that are more fuel-efficient? Maybe. Answer (C) uses that same structure. Oh, hey, answer (C) tosses in the word other! I know what they’re doing!

If you’ve seen the word other tested within a comparison before, you may know, too. If not, get ready to make a note. Take a look at these two sentences:

Auna is taller than any woman in her class.

Auna is taller than any other woman in her class.

What’s the difference? Are both acceptable or only one?

When you’re making a comparison in which one part of the comparison falls into the same group as the rest, you have to find a way to distinguish that one part.

In this case, Auna is a part of the class. It’s impossible, then, for her to be taller than any woman in her class, because she herself is one of those women! She has to be taller than any other woman in her class, not including herself.

By the same token, today’s small cars can’t be more fuel-efficient than at any time in their history, because that history includes right now. They have to be more fuel-efficient now than at any other time.

Answers (A), (B) and (E) are all wrong for this reason, but this meaning error isn’t necessarily immediately apparent just from reading the original sentence. The definitive clue is the addition of the word other in answers (C) and (D).

Now that you’re down to two, compare them:

“(C) small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in

“(D) more fuel-efficient small cars than those at any other time in their”

Now, be incredibly careful. There are two differences: small cars that are move fuel-efficient vs. more fuel-efficient small cars and in vs. in their.

Some people will use concision at this point. Be very wary about using concision. First of all, although answer (D) is a little more concise at the beginning, answer (C) is more concise at the end, so how can you decide based on concision?

Second of all, concision is usually a mask for some other issue, typically meaning or modifiers. Dig deeper. Take a look at the full sentence; here is it with (C) inserted into the underline.

“Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make small cars that are more fuel-efficient than those at any other time in production history.”

And (D):

“Today’s technology allows manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient small cars than those at any other time in their production history.”

When modifiers move around, check the meaning.

The first answer says that today’s small cars are more fuel-efficient.

The second answer says that… the cars are more fuel-efficient? Or that there are more of these types of cars? I’m not actually sure.

Hmm. Ambiguity is bad.

Also, whose production history are we talking about? Answer (C) just says in production history, but (D) tosses in the pronoun their. Does their refer to cars? The manufacturers? This choice is unclear; eliminate it.

The correct answer is (C).

Key Takeaways: Examine Meaning when Modifiers Move

(1) Only some of the answers included the modifier other. When a modifier appears or disappears, think about the meaning of the sentence. In particular, when you see the word other included in a comparison, examine that comparison. If the X portion is itself a part of the Y group, then you need to add the word other to make clear that X is not being compared to itself. This car is faster than any other car.

(2) When modifiers move around in a sentence, think about meaning. The placement of modifiers absolutely affects what is being modified, so moving something around may cause the sentence to be illogical or ambiguous.

(3) Ambiguity can be difficult to spot when you already know the intended meaning of the sentence; since you already know what the sentence is trying to say, you’re likely to read right over the ambiguity. Actively look for ambiguity (or lack of logic) when you see modifiers moving around.

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

Read Can you Spot the Meaning Error? (part 1) and Can You Spot the Meaning Error? (Part 2).

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.

One response to Can you Spot the Meaning Error? (part 3)

  1. I was able to get to C.

    I eliminated D for the following reason, is this correct:

    In choice D:
    “their” could refer to cars. Logically it should refer to manufacturers.

    pronoun ambiguity is not a strict rule, hence I am never confidant if I can eliminate an options based on that.

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