GMAT sentence correction: start with simple examples

GMAT Sentence Correction
By Beth G.

Many people are understandably intimidated by the complexity of the sentences in the sentence correction problems on the GMAT. Most resources teach sentence correction skills using similarly complex examples, which can make it hard to recognize the relatively simple concepts that are being tested on the exam. You wouldn’t study algebra to learn arithmetic! Once you learn to recognize each concept in a simple sentence, it will be much easier to recognize the concepts being tested in the convoluted sentences on the exam.

Review the simple examples below. If the concept in the examples makes sense to you, congratulations – move on! If the concept is still a little fuzzy after reading the examples, it might be a good skill to study in further detail later.

Ambiguous pronouns:

Make sure it’s clear what each pronoun refers to!

Incorrect: Julio and Juan went to dinner, but he wasn’t hungry.

Correct: Julio and Juan went to dinner, but Julio wasn’t hungry.

Singular vs. plural pronouns:

If the thing the pronoun refers to is singular, the pronoun should be singular! If the thing the pronoun refers to is plural, the pronoun should be plural.

Incorrect: Every book belongs in their correct place on the shelf.

Correct: Every book belongs in its correct place on the shelf.

Misplaced modifiers:

If there’s a descriptive phrase at the beginning of the sentence, make sure the thing that’s named right after it is actually the thing that you are trying to describe.

Incorrect: With sharp teeth and powerful jaw muscles, Moxie’s bone was worn down quickly.

Correct: With sharp teeth and powerful jaw muscles, Moxie wore her bone down quickly.

Parallel construction:

Whenever possible, try to make different parts of the sentence match.

Incorrect: My sister likes cooking, drawing, and to walk her dog.

Correct: My sister likes cooking, drawing, and walking her dog.

Parallel comparisons:

Make sure the sentence is comparing two similar things. 

Incorrect: The photographers at this studio took more pictures than other studios. 

Correct: The photographers at this studio took more pictures than the photographers at other studios.

Verb tense:

Make sure that the tenses of verb are consistent with when the events in the sentence take place. 

Incorrect: The CEO explained why the company was doing well and says that the growth will continue.

Correct: The CEO explained why the company was doing well and said that the growth will continue.

Subject-verb agreement:

Make sure the subject matches the verb, especially in terms of being singular or plural. Ignore sneaky phrases that are thrown in between the subject and the verb to trick you.

Incorrect: Everyone in the class, especially Seiji and Avi, are nervous about the exam.

Correct: Everyone in the class, especially Seiji and Avi, is nervous about the exam.

Comparison words:

You make comparisons between two things and among two or more things.

Incorrect: Between yellow, green, and blue, yellow was the more popular color.

Correct: Between yellow, green and blue, yellow was the most popular color.

Quantity words:

You have fewer of a thing that you can count. You have less of something that you can’t count.

Incorrect: There were less glasses of water on my table.

Correct: There were fewer glasses of water on my table.

Correct: There was less water on my table. 

Subjunctive:

For hypothetical statements, you say “I were” instead of “I was” (e.g. “if I were …”, “I wish I were …”, “if only there were …”).

Incorrect: I wish I was going on vacation with my brother.

Correct: I wish I were going on vacation with my brother.

Passive vs. active:

Often, it is better to use the active voice (“Something/someone did something”) than the passive voice (“Something/someone had something done to it.”) An answer choice on the GMAT that uses the passive voice isn’t necessarily wrong, but an answer choice that uses the active voice may be better. 

Passive: The ball was chased by the dog.

Active (generally better): The dog chased the ball.

Beth earned her BA in Human Biology and MA in Education from Stanford University. She is now in the PhD program in Animal Biology at UC Davis, where she studies the proteins involved in sperm-egg fusion.

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