Out of the types of questions asked on the GMAT Verbal section, Sentence Correction questions may strike native English speakers as the easiest. After all, you usually know whether a sentence sounds grammatically correct or not. However, it is for this exact reason that Sentence Correction questions can be among the trickiest to solve if you are not careful and methodical in your approach to solving them. In this post, we examine how Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT work, and how best to handle them.
Structure and Format
Sentence Correction questions are located in the 65-minute Verbal section. Of the 36 GMAT Verbal questions, you can usually expect around 10 to 15 of them to be Sentence Correction. The question consists of a sentence with an underlined portion (which may be just a phrase but can consist of the entire sentence), and five answer choices suggesting alternatives to the underlined phrase.
Note: The first answer choice is always the same phrase as the original sentence, so you can skip that when evaluating the different options.
What does GMAT Sentence Correction test?
Sentence Correction questions test your English language proficiency from two dimensions: correct expression and effective expression. Correct expression just means the sentence is grammatically correct with no errors. Effective expression is a little more subjective, referring to how accurately and clearly the sentence expresses what it intends to express.
So what do you need to know? You do not need to know spelling, vocabulary, very obscure grammatical rules, or knowledge of the sentence’s topic. Rather, there are a few key topics that the GMAT tests in different ways:
A key principle of English grammar is that each verb must agree with the subject it refers to in a sentence. For example, “the table is flat” is correct because both “table” and “is” agree, while “the table are flat” does not because “are” is a plural verb while “table” is a singular noun. This may seem like an easy type of question to solve, but the GMAT has ways of tripping you up. Take the following example:
The authors’ paper on the danger of abusing opioids neither places blame nor alludes the major companies that are responsible for the epidemic.A) neither places blame nor alludes the major companies that are responsible for the epidemic.
B) neither place blame nor allude the major companies that are responsible for the epidemic.
C) neither places blame nor alludes to the major companies that are responsible for the epidemic.
D) neither places blame nor alludes to the major companies that is responsible for the epidemic.
E) neither place blame nor allude of the major companies that are responsible for the epidemic.
The first step here is identifying the subject and the verb in question to see if they agree. In this case, the verbs are “places” and “alludes.” The trick here is the subject to which they refer is “paper,” not “opioids” (which appears closer to the verbs) or “authors.’” Because “paper” is singular and not plural, “places” and “alludes” are the correct verbs to use. Therefore, we can eliminate B and E. A can also be eliminated because “alludes” must be followed by the preposition “to.” We are therefore left with C and D. Examining the difference between the two options, we can see D contains another subject-verb mismatch: “companies that is responsible.” Therefore, we can eliminate D and are left with C as the correct answer.
The verb tense must be chosen based on the time that the action in the sentence took place. There are three major verb tenses: past, present and future. These can be split into further tenses:
- Present: present simple, present progressive and present perfect
- Past: past simple, past progressive and past perfect
- Future: future simple
Comparison questions have taken increased importance in recent GMATs. When a sentence contains a comparison, the nouns being compared have to be parallel. For example: “Sheila dislikes cilantro more than Patricia.” While we may phrase such a sentence this way in common speech, it is not parallel and also ambiguous – we do not know whether Sheila has a greater dislike for cilantro than Patricia does, or whether she dislikes cilantro to a greater extent than she dislikes Patricia? Therefore, we would correct this sentence to “Sheila dislikes cilantro more than Patricia does.”
Pronouns substitute for a given noun (known as an antecedent) and, just like with subject-verb agreement above, must agree with the verb referring to it. The pronoun also must agree with the noun it is replacing, i.e. they both must be either singular or plural, or either a subject or an object.
This is a more specific error that is usually straightforward to identify in the GMAT once you know about it. Dangling participles occur when a participle (a verb that is used as an adjective or a noun, such as “shopping addict” or “advanced training”) does not correspond to the subject of the sentence. For example, “Heading out the door, the keys were left behind by Georgie.” In this case, “heading out the door” is the dangling participle phrase because it actually refers to Georgie, but in this example sounds like it is referring to the keys. Correct responses will have the subject next to the participle – “Heading out the door, Georgie left the keys behind.”
Certain words have specific prepositions or follow-on words that must be used. We saw this in the subject-verb agreement example with “alludes to” (correct) vs. “alludes of” (incorrect). Other phrases include “neither…nor,” “not only…but also,” “aware of.”
There is more to cover in each of these topics than can fit in one blog post. Cambridge Coaching provides expert help in Sentence Correction questions, ensuring that you can master not only the grammar fundamentals but also the trickiest types of questions on the GMAT.