Busting Some GMAT SC Myths

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday we will bust some SC myths using a question. The following are the myths:

Myth 1: Passive voice is always wrong.

Active voice is preferred over passive voice but that doesn’t make passive voice wrong.

Myth 2: The same pronoun cannot refer to two different antecedents in a sentence.

A pronoun, say ‘it’, can refer to two different objects in a single sentence, but it should not refer to two different objects in the same clause since that creates ambiguity.

We will explain these two points to you using a sentence correction question:

Question: Once the computer generates the financial reports, they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements are in balance.

(A) Once the computer generates the financial reports, they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements balance.
(B) Once the computer generates the financial reports, it is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, named such because it demonstrated the balance of every department’s accounting elements.
(C) Once the computer generates the financial reports they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, which demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.
(D) Once the financial reports are generated by the computer, it is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.
(E) Once the financial reports are generated by the computer, they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, named such because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements are in balance.

Solution:  Let’s split the sentence into clauses:

–          Once the computer generates the financial reports,

–          they are then used to program a company-wide balance sheet,

–          so named because it demonstrates that every department’s accounting elements are in balance.

Find the decision points. The first clause is in active voice in the first three options and in passive in the other two. Both are correct.

The first decision point is they vs it. Should we use they or should we use it? The first clause talks about two things – computer (singular) and financial reports (plural). What do we want to refer to in the second clause? What do we use to program a balance sheet? A computer is used to program something. Reports cannot program anything. They can be used while programming but they cannot program. Hence, the use of ‘it’ would be correct here.

Only in options (B) and (D) do we use ‘it’ (singular) which refers back to the computer (singular). It cannot refer back to financial reports (plural). So eliminate options (A), (C) and (E).

Now comes our next decision point – we have to choose one of ‘named such’ and ‘so named’. ‘named such’ which is used in option (B) is awkward. Also, we use the past tense of the verb ‘demonstrate’ in option (B). This is not correct since a balance sheet is so called because is always demonstrates the balance of every element. It did not demonstrate it only in the past. Hence we need to use simple present tense.

This leads us to option (D). Everything is taken care of here.

Here are a couple of points about option (D):

(D) Once the financial reports are generated by the computer, it is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet, so named because it demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.

Sometimes, people eliminate it because it uses passive voice “the financial reports are generated by the computer”. Be aware that passive is not wrong. You have learned active passive in school. Passive is just a bit weaker form of writing than active and hence, given a choice, active is preferred but not at the expense of grammatical correctness! Using passive is not incorrect.

At other times, people have problems with the use of the pronoun ‘it’ for two different antecedents

– it (the computer) is then used to program a company-wide balance sheet,

– so named because it (the balance sheet) demonstrates the balance of every department’s accounting elements.

An OG problem has been pointed out here:

Starfish, with anywhere from five to eight arms, have a strong regenerative ability, and if one arm is lost it [animal] quickly replaces it [arm], sometimes by the animal overcompensating and growing an extra one or two.

The above answer is incorrect since the pronoun ‘it’ refers to two different antecedents in a single clause. Note that the pronoun ‘it’ refers to two different antecedents in the same clause. It is hard to understand what ‘it’ refers to.

But that is not the case in our option (D).

The first ‘it’ clearly refers to the computer since there is only one singular antecedent before it.

The second ‘it’ in the third clause clearly refers to the balance sheet because the clause talks about the balance sheet: … company wide balance sheet, so named because it …

There is no ambiguity of pronoun reference here.

We can’t re-iterate it enough – don’t try to learn up ‘rules’ for sentence correction. Every so called “rule” is not applicable in every situation. Use logic!

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!