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GMAT Grammar: A Quirky Idiom for Comparisons

This is an idiom that demonstrates some of the quirkiest aspects of the English language, aspects that often frustrate non-native speakers in the process of learning English.   This idiom concerns the situation of talking about how two thing changes with respect to one another.  Because this situation lends itself well to quantitative relationships, I will demonstrate with two practice questions giving qualitative statements of the Second & Third Laws of Planetary Motion of Johannes Kepler.  (If you are at all curious, the First Law says that planetary orbits are ellipses with the Sun at one focus.)  The focus of both these practice GMAT Sentence Correction question is this particular idiom.

 

Practice question

1) According to Kepler’s Second Law of Planetary Motion, as a planet moves through its elliptical orbit, it changes its orbital speed as its distance from the Sun changes: in particular, the closer the planet is to the Sun, then it is moving its orbit that much faster.

  1. the closer the planet is to the Sun, then it is moving in its orbit that much faster
  2. the closer the planet is to the Sun, the faster it moves in its orbit
  3. when the planet is closer to the Sun, the faster it moves in its orbit
  4. when the planet is closer to the Sun, moving fasting in its orbit as well
  5. by being closer to the Sun, also moving fasting in its orbit

2) Kepler’s Third Law says expresses the relationship between the semi-major axis of a planet’s orbit and its orbital period: the further a planet’s orbit is from the Sun, the longer the planet’s period of revolution around the Sun.

  1. the further a planet’s orbit is from the Sun, the longer the planet’s period of revolution around the Sun
  2. when a planet’s orbit is further from the Sun, the longer the planet’s period of revolution around the Sun
  3. the further a planet’s orbit is from the Sun, thereby the planet’s period of revolution around the Sun is that much longer
  4. when a planet’s orbit is further from the Sun, the planet’s period of revolution around the Sun being that much longer
  5. by having an orbit further from the Sun, a planet also having a period of revolution around the Sun being that much longer

 

The idiom

Suppose A and B are two items or qualities or quantities, and we want to express how one of them changes as a result of the other one changing; that is, we want to express the interrelated nature of their changes.   This is the formal structure of the idiom:

the” (comparative adjective or adverb) (independent clause about A), “the” (comparative adjective or adverb) (independent clause about B)

The words “the” beginning each part are crucial, as is the comma separating the two parts.  This idiom stands alone as an independent clause, and therefore can be a complete sentence by itself, or can play a role in a larger sentence.  Here are some examples.

3) The higher they fly, the harder they fall.

4)  The straight an arrow, the truer it flies.

5) The hotter the surface temperature of a star, the more light per square meter it radiates.

6) “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

If you understand the layout of this idiom, see whether that changes your answers to the questions above.  You may want to give them a second look before reading the solutions below.   May the Force be with you.

 

Practice questions solutions

Like a question in the OG13 (SC #2), this question is designed specifically to test this pattern.  Only one of the answers in each follows this particular idiom perfectly, and the other four answer choices in each are both idiomatically and grammatically incorrect.  The correct choices are (B) in the first and (A) in the second.

 

About the Author

Mike McGarry is a Content Developer for Magoosh with over 20 years of teaching experience and a BS in Physics and an MA in Religion, both from Harvard. He enjoys hitting foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Follow him on Google+!

6 Responses to GMAT Grammar: A Quirky Idiom for Comparisons

  1. ERIC August 21, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    Hi Mike,

    I have 2 questions here about the correct answer of OG13 SC#2.

    1. “The higher X, The longer Y” Does X have to parallel with Y??

    If do,

    2. “The higher [the watt-hour rating], the longer [the battery can be expected to last].”

    I wonder how the 2 parts in [] are parallel. I think that [the watt-hour rating] is a noun and [the battery can be expected to last] is a clause.

    Thank you in advance :)

    • Mike
      Mike August 21, 2014 at 10:23 am #

      Dear ERIC,
      I’m happy to respond. :-) This gets into way more than you need to know for the GMAT, but I believe, technically, this structure always demands a noun or something acting as a noun. We could have two pure nouns: “The richer a man, the bigger his car.” When a clause is in one or both places, I believe the word “that” is implicit: “The higher [that] they fly, the harder [that] they fall.” It’s not necessary to include this “that,” but I believe it’s there technically. Therefore, in the sentence you quote from the OG, we have a noun “watt-hour rating” and an implicit noun clause “[that] the battery can be expected to last,” which is parallel. For more on noun clauses, also know as substantive clauses, see:
      http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/substantive-clauses-on-the-gmat/
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike :-)

  2. Milovan December 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    I understand everything related to this construction except the fact that we do not have a verb in the last clause in the 2nd question. Is it ok if there is only one “is” at the end of the correct choice in the 2nd question?

  3. thegreatreddragonandthewomancl March 15, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Very interesting topic, thank you for putting up.

    • Mike
      Mike March 19, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      You are quite welcome.
      Mike :-)


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