Understanding Conjunctions on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe would like to discuss a bit about conjunctions today – just whatever is relevant for GMAT. We will start by defining the kinds of conjunctions, then move on to the different ways in which they are used, and finally, we will see how they can be tested in a question.

Conjunction is a word that connects or joins together words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. There are two kinds of conjunctions:

1. Coordinating conjunctions - Connect two equal parts of a sentence

Further, coordinating conjunctions are of two types:

Pure Conjunctions – and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so (the first letters of these make the acronym FANBOYS) – try to keep these in mind.

Conjunctive Adverbs – These words sometimes act as conjunctions and at other times, as adverbs – accordingly, in fact, again, instead, also, likewise, besides, moreover, consequently, namely, finally, nevertheless, for example, otherwise, further, still, furthermore, that is, hence, then, however, therefore, indeed, thus

2. Subordinating conjunctions – Connect two unequal parts of a sentence e.g. independent and dependent clauses – after, since, when, although, so that, whenever, as, supposing, where, because, than, whereas, before, that, wherever, but that, though, whether, if, though, which, in order that, till, while, lest, unless, who, no matter, until, why, how, what, even though

Things to note about conjunctions:

1. Two independent clauses can be joined by a comma and a pure conjunction. However, a comma by itself will not work to join together two sentences and will create a comma splice!

Examples:

The rain slashed the town, and the people scurried for shelter.

The policeman dodged the bullets, but a bystander was shot.

If you omit the conjunctions ’or’ and ‘but’ above, you will create a comma splice.

2. When two independent clauses are joined by a conjunctive adverb we need to insert a semicolon between the two clauses. Note that conjunctive adverbs are not really full conjunctions, and they can’t do that job by themselves. It is the semicolon that does the real job of joining the two independent clauses.

Examples:

The rain slashed the town; furthermore, the people scurried for shelter.

The policeman dodged the bullets; however, a bystander was shot.

Note that if we use a comma instead of a semicolon in the examples above, we will create a comma splice.

3. A dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence is introductory, and it is usually followed by a comma.

Examples:

While the rain slashed the town, the people scurried for shelter.

Although the policeman dodged the bullets, a bystander was shot.

On the other hand, no punctuation is necessary for the dependent clause following the main clause.

Let’s take one of our own questions to understand the application of these concepts:

Question: Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost; the thoroughness of the design submission was also factored into the decision.

(A) Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the contract this year was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

(B)   This year, unlike last year, the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

(C)   Unlike the previous year’s bidding, this year the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

(D)   Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the bidding for the contract this year was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost, instead

(E)    Unlike the previous year’s bidding, the contract’s bidding this year were awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost;

Solution: Other than the comparison errors contained in (A) – compares bidding with contract – and (C) – compares bidding with year – we have sentence structure errors.

There are two independent clauses here:

-          the contract was awarded not simply to the firm offering to complete the work on time for the least cost.

-          the thoroughness of the design submission was also factored into the decision.

There are two ways to join them – we can use a conjunction or a semi colon. Options (A), (B), (C) and (E) use a semi colon.

Option (D) tries to use a conjunction with a comma but note that “instead” is a conjunctive adverb. It needs a semi colon before it. The use of instead with a comma has created a comma splice. Options (D) and (E) also have meaning errors since they award ‘bidding’ to the firm instead of awarding the ‘contract’ to the firm. (E) is also incorrect in its use of ‘were awarded’. The contract is singular and hence, ‘was awarded’ should be used.

Option (B) rectifies all these errors and is the answer!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

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