GMAT Gurus Speak Out: De-Clutter the Sentence

We’re back with the next installment in an occasional series on the Veritas Prep Blog, called “GMAT Gurus Speak Out.” Veritas Prep has dozens of experienced GMAT instructors around the world (all of whom have scored in the 99th percentile on the GMAT), and it’s amazing how much collective experience they have in preparing students for the exam. This new series brings some of their best insights to you. Today we have another installment from John Chismody, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor in Pittsburgh.

Give this GMAT Sentence Correction question a try:

From studies of the bony house of the brain, which is the cranium, located in the back of the skull, come what scientists know about dinosaur brains.

(A) From studies of the bony house of the brain, which is the cranium, located in the back of the skull, come what scientists know about dinosaur brains.

(B) The knowledge that scientists know about dinosaur brains comes from the bony house of the brain, located in the back of the skull, that is, the cranium.

(C) The knowledge of dinosaur brains that scientists have come studies of the bony house of the brain, which is located in the back of the skull and is called the cranium.

(D) What scientists know about dinosaur brains comes from studies of the cranium, the bony house of the brain that is located in the back of the skull.

(E) Located in the back of the skull is the cranium, the bony house of the brain, and it is from studies of this that scientists know what they know about dinosaur brains.

Do not get frazzled when an entire sentence is underlined. Instead, learn to de-clutter the sentence.

There are four broad grammar rules that one needs to be alert to when dissecting a sentence. While they do not cover all rules of English grammar, they are highly beneficial for helping one to accurately answer the majority of GMAT grammar questions.

They are:

  • Subject/Verb Agreement – singular subjects take singular verb; plural subjects take plural verbs
  • Verb Tense – verbs need to accurately describe the sequence of events given
  • Modification – words and phrases must clearly modify what they are intending to describe
  • Parallel Structure – sentences must be properly balanced and have a uniform construction

Every verb in a sentence needs a subject. Always try initially to locate the sentence’s subject and verb. Stylistically the subject does not have to come at the beginning of the sentence.

In this sentence, the subject comes at the end of the sentence: What scientists know about dinosaur brains. This is known grammatically as a noun clause. A singular noun clause is singular; a compound noun clause is plural. Since this is a singular noun clause, it requires a singular verb. The noun clause’s verb in this choice is come, which is plural; thus the subject/verb agreement is flawed, making answer (A) incorrect.

Choice (B) has several problems. Its subject is knowledge and its verb is comes…so it has proper subject/verb agreement. However, there is an awkward construction in the descriptive relative clause that scientists know. People do not know knowledge; they have knowledge. And then there is the bizarre construction: that is, the cranium. Perhaps one could say known as the cranium or called the cranium… but not that is, the cranium.

Answer (C) is flawed because of an error in subject/verb agreement. The subject of this answer choice is knowledge, but its verb is come, which is plural and not the singular verb comes.

While answer choice (E) has proper subject/verb agreement, it does babble awkwardly when it concludes with the phrase that scientists know what they know. Why value does the double know provide? Thus, (E) is incorrect.

Answer choice (D) is correct and has proper subject/verb agreement.

Too often, GMAT takers get lost in the clutter and awkwardness of the sentence and fail to structurally dissect and de-clutter the sentence. Do not make the erroneous assumption that the sentences provided to you on the GMAT are to be clear and concise. While the power of effective writing is in its simplicity, most sentences that one sees in everyday writing (and I am not talking about what is in published print, but in texting, emails, blogs and correspondences) are cluttered with awkward constructions. So the makers of the GMAT are testing you on these styles of writing.

So keep your wits about you and holistically analyze the sentence and its intended meaning. With a bit of practice and keeping your eyes wide open, you will become better skilled at getting through the debris and strengthening your accuracy.

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