All About “That” on the GMAT

The word “that” is often found in the daymares of many a GMAT student! The reason for that is that “that” could play various different roles in a sentence:

  1. Demonstrative Determiner
  2. Demonstrative Pronoun
  3. Relative Pronoun

Demonstrative Determiner – In this role, “that” specifies the specific person/thing about which we are talking. It is followed by a noun.

Can I have some of that cake, please?

I have never been to that part of Italy.

When we are talking about a plural noun, “that” becomes “those”.

Demonstrative Pronoun – In this role, “that” replaces a noun.

That is beautiful.

Look at that!

When we replace a plural noun, “that” becomes “those”.

Relative Pronoun – “that” introduces a defining/restrictive clause. This clause is essential to the sentence.

Loki is on the team that lost.

The produce that is sourced locally is environment-friendly.

There is no “that”/“those” distinction in this case. The clause is always introduced by “that”.

Hope these simple examples clarified the various roles “that” can play in a sentence. Not understanding this distinction could lead to a lot of confusion. The words around “that” will help you understand exactly what role it is playing in each case.

Let’s take a look at one of our own questions in which knowing this distinction comes in handy.

Question: In nests across North America, the host mother tries to identify their own eggs and weed out the fakes, but the brown-headed cowbird – a brood parasite that sneaks its eggs into other birds’ nests – produces eggs that look very similar to those of the host, making that task surprisingly difficult.

(A) the host mother tries to identify their own eggs and weed out the fakes, but the brown-headed cowbird – a brood parasite that sneaks its eggs into other birds’ nests – produces eggs that look very similar to those of the host, making that task surprisingly difficult

B) the host mother tries to identify its own eggs and weed out the fakes, but the brown-headed cowbird – a brood parasite that sneaks its eggs into other birds’ nests – produces eggs that look very similar to that of the host, making it surprisingly difficult

C) host mothers try to identify their own eggs and weed out the fakes, but the brown-headed cowbird – a brood parasite that sneaks its eggs into other birds’ nests – produces eggs that look very similar to the host’s, making that task surprisingly difficult

D) host mothers try to identify their own eggs and weed out the fakes, but the brown-headed cowbird – a brood parasite that sneaks its eggs into other birds’ nests – produces eggs that look very similar to that of the host’s, making it surprisingly difficult

E) host mothers try to identify its own eggs and weed out the fakes, but the brown-headed cowbird – a brood parasite that sneaks its eggs into other birds’ nests – produces eggs that look very similar to those of the host’s, making that task surprisingly difficult

Solution:

This is a complicated sentence and unfortunately, almost the entire sentence is underlined. That just makes it harder and more time consuming.

  1. … the host mother tries to identify their own eggs…

In the beginning itself, we see that the subject is “host mother” which is singular and the pronoun that refers back to it – “those” – is plural. Hence this sentence is incorrect. We just move on.

(B) … produces eggs that look very similar to that of the host …

We have two instances of the use of “that” here. The first “that” is used as a relative pronoun to introduce the clause “that look very similar to ….”

The second “that” is  used as a placeholder for “eggs” hence we need to use “those” – the plural form – here.

(C) All correct

(D) … produces eggs that look very similar to that of the host’s…

The explanation is the same as that of (B). The second “that” is  used as a placeholder for “eggs” hence we need to use “those” – the plural form – here.

Also, the correct comparison is:

either

“A’s eggs look very similar to those of B” (where “those” stands for eggs)

or

“A’s eggs look very similar to B’s” (where eggs is implied at the end).

But “A’s eggs look very similar to those of B’s” is incorrect since it implies

“A’s eggs look very similar to eggs of B’s eggs”

(E) … host mothers try to identify its own eggs…

The subject is “host mothers”, which is plural, but the pronoun is “its”, which is singular.

Hope this clarifies the various ways in which “that” can be used.

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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!