Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Grammatical Structure of Conditional Sentences on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday, we will take a look at the various “if/then” constructions in the GMAT Verbal section. Let us start out with some basic ideas on conditional sentences (though I know that most of you will be comfortable with these):

A conditional sentence (an if/then sentence) has two clauses – the “if clause” (conditional clause) and the “then clause” (main clause).  The “if clause” is the dependent clause, meaning the verbs we use in the clauses will depend on whether we are talking about a real or a hypothetical situation.

Often, conditional sentences are classified into first conditional, second conditional and third conditional (depending on the tense and possibility of the actions), but sometimes we have a separate zero conditional for facts. We will follow this classification and discuss four types of conditionals:

1) Zero Conditional

These sentences express facts; i.e. implications – “if this happens, then that happens.”

  • If the suns shines, the clothes dry quickly.
  • If he eats bananas, he gets a headache.
  • If it rains heavily, the temperature drops.

These conditionals establish universally known facts or something that happens habitually (every time he eats bananas, he gets a headache).

2) First Conditional

These sentences refer to predictive conditional sentences. They often use the present tense in the “if clause” and future tense (usually with the word “will”) in the main clause.

  • If you come to  my place, I will help you with your homework.
  • If I am able to save $10,000 by year end, I will go to France next year.

3) Second Conditional

These sentences refer to hypothetical or unlikely situations in the present or future. Here, the “if clause” often uses the past tense and the main clause uses conditional mood (usually with the word “would”).

  • If I were you, I would take her to the dance.
  • If I knew her phone number, I would tell you.
  • If I won the lottery, I would travel the whole world.

4) Third Conditional

These sentences refer to hypothetical situations in the past – what could have been different in the past. Here, the “if clause” uses the past perfect tense and the main clause uses the conditional perfect tense (often with the words “would have”).

  • If you had told me about the party, I would have attended it.
  • If I had not lied to my mother, I would not have hurt her.

Sometimes, mixed conditionals are used here, where the second and third conditionals are combined. The “if clause” then uses the past perfect and the main clause uses  the word “would”.

  • If you had helped me then, I would be in a much better spot today.

Now that you know which conditionals to use in which situation, let’s take a look at a GMAT question:

Botanists have proven that if plants extended laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow slower than do those that are more vertically contained.

(A) extended laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow slower than do

(B) extended laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow slower than

(C) extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they grow more slowly than

(D) extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they would have grown more slowly than do

(E) extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow more slowly than do

Now that we understand our conditionals, we should be able to answer this question quickly. Scientists have established something here; i.e. it is a fact. So we will use the zero conditional here – if this happens, then that happens.

…if plants extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they grow more slowly than do…

So the correct answer must be (C).

A note on slower vs. more slowly – we need to use an adverb here because “slow” describes “grow,” which is a verb. So we must use “grow slowly”. If we want to show comparison, we use “more slowly”, so the use of “slower” is incorrect here.

Let’s look at another question now:

If Dr. Wade was right, any apparent connection of the eating of highly processed foods and excelling at sports is purely coincidental.

(A) If Dr. Wade was right, any apparent connection of the eating of

(B) Should Dr. Wade be right, any apparent connection of eating

(C) If Dr. Wade is right, any connection that is apparent between eating of

(D) If Dr. Wade is right, any apparent connection between eating

(E) Should Dr. Wade have been right, any connection apparent between eating

Notice the non-underlined part “… is purely coincidental” in the main clause. This makes us think of the zero conditional.

Let’s see if it makes sense:

If Dr. Wade is right, any connection … is purely coincidental.

This is correct. It talks about a fact.

Also, “eating highly processed foods and excelling at sports” is correct.

Hence, our answer must be (D).

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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!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Listen to Yoda on Sentence Correction You Must

GMAT Tip of the WeekSpeak like Yoda this weekend, your friends will. As today marks the release of the newest Star Wars movie, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, young professionals around the world are lining up dressed as their favorite robot, wookie, or Jedi knight, and greeting each other in Yoda’s famous inverted sentence structure. And for those who hope to awaken the force within themselves to conquer the evil empire that is the GMAT, Yoda can be your GMAT Jedi Master, too.

Learn from Yoda’s speech pattern, you must.

What can Yoda teach you about mastering GMAT Sentence Correction? Beware of inverted sentences, you should. Consider this example, which appeared on the official GMAT:

Out of America’s fascination with all things antique have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing back the chaise lounge, the overstuffed sofa, and the claw-footed bathtub.

(A) things antique have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing
(B) things antique has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that is bringing
(C) things that are antiques has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that bring
(D) antique things have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing
(E) antique things has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that bring

What makes this problem difficult is the inversion of the subject and verb. Much like Yoda’s habit of putting the subject after the predicate, this sentence flips the subject (“a market”) and the verb (“has grown”). And in doing so, the sentence gets people off track – many will see “America’s fascination” as the subject (and luckily so, since it’s still singular) or “all things antique” as the subject. But consider:

  • Antique things can’t grow. They’re old, inanimate objects (like those Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader action figures that your mom threw away that would now be worth a lot of money).
  • America’s fascination is the reason for whatever is growing. “Out of America’s fascination, America’s fascination is growing” doesn’t make any sense – the cause can’t be its own effect.

So, logically, “a market” has to be the subject. But in classic GMAT style, the testmakers hide the correct answer (B) behind a strange sentence structure. Two, really – people also tend to dislike “all things antique” (preferring “all antique things” instead), but again, that’s an allowable inversion in which the adjective goes after the noun.

Here is the takeaway: the GMAT will employ lots of strange sentence structures, including subject-verb inversion, a la Yoda (but only when it’s grammatically warranted), so you will often need to rely on “The Force” of logic to sift through complicated sentences. Here, that means thinking through logically what the subject of the sentence should be, and also removing modifiers like “out of America’s fascination…” to give yourself a more concise sentence on which to employ that logical thinking (the fascination is causing a market to develop, and that market is bringing back these old types of furniture).

Don’t let the GMAT Jedi mind-trick you out of the score you deserve. See complicated sentence structures, you will, so employ the force of logic, you must.

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By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week

Don’t Swing at the First Pitch

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

This week, all eyes were on Las Vegas, as the desert oasis town received a whopping four inches of snow. For baseball fans, however, Las Vegas has been the target of much attention all month, as the Major League Baseball winter meetings took place in Sin City, a perfect place for Steinbrenners and other owners to make risky investments with millions of dollars.

Why is this relevant to the GMAT? As many MBA applicants use this month to finalize their applications, including in many cases a last attempt at the GMAT, it may be helpful to remember the old baseball axiom “don’t swing at the first pitch”, particularly when you face verbal questions.

This tradition in baseball is effective because most batters prefer to get a feel for the pitcher’s style before deciding to select a pitch to hit – should they swing at the first pitch without a sense of the pitcher’s timing and delivery, and maybe the lighting and other conditions of the ballpark, they could quickly and mistakenly pop out without ever getting a comfortable chance at a quality plate appearance.

On the GMAT’s verbal section, students often make a very similar mistake, only in this case “swinging” is akin to “eliminating an answer choice”. On many questions, the writers of the exam can sneak a correct answer choice A by you because it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but your sense of urgency compels you to hastily cross out the “A” on your noteboard because you are anxious to move forward. By the time you “open up your strike zone,” so to speak, with answer choices C-through-E, you’ve mentally eliminated “A” so emphatically that you won’t allow yourself to return to it, and you end up taking a flier on a poor choice toward the bottom of the screen rather than returning to the answer choices you’ve already eliminated it.

Simply put, if you cannot definitively eliminate answer choice “A”, don’t cross it out until you’ve seen other answer choices to get a feel for what the answer choices contain. You may never find the “perfect” answer that you are anticipating, but once you have seen a couple of answers you will be better equipped to see the fatal flaws in the incorrect answers and judge each more fairly.

For more help on the GMAT, visit Veritas Prep.