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Parallelism on the GMAT Sentence Correction

First, a few practice questions.  The answers and full explanations will be given at the end of this blog.

1) Simon Bolivar (1783 – 1830) is remembered in that he led the independence revolutions in several South American counties, like Venezuela and Bolivia, and for instilling the ideals of democracy across the continent.

  1. in that he led the independence revolutions in several South American counties, like Venezuela and Bolivia, and for instilling
  2. to have led the independence revolutions in several South American counties, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, and that he instilled
  3. to have led the independence revolutions in several South American counties, including Venezuela and Bolivia, and having instilled
  4. for leading the independence revolutions in several South American counties, like Venezuela and Bolivia, and to have instilled
  5. for leading the independence revolutions in several South American counties, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, and for instilling

2) Marcus Junius Brutus (85 – 42 BCE) became friends with Julius Caesar, but he participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar, and in subsequent centuries rose and fell according to the tides of various interpretations — as a treacherous villain in Dante and noble hero in Shakespeare.

  1. he participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar, and in subsequent centuries rose and fell
  2. he participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar, and in subsequent centuries rising and falling
  3. participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar, and in subsequent centuries his reputation rose and fell
  4. participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar, and in subsequent centuries his reputation rising and falling
  5. participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar, and in subsequent centuries rose and fell

3) The mayor’s five-year growth plan for Greenville is not consistent with Assemblyman Johnson’s ominous prediction that there will be less jobs in the county next year, instead the governor announcing the large amount of new federally funded job opportunities throughout the region.

  1. not consistent with Assemblyman Johnson’s ominous prediction that there will be less jobs in the county next year, instead the governor announcing the large amount
  2. consistent not with Assemblyman Johnson’s ominous prediction of fewer jobs in the county next year, but with the governor’s announcement of the large number
  3. consistent with not Assemblyman Johnson’s ominous prediction that there will be fewer jobs in the county next year, but with the governor’s announcement of the large amount
  4. consistent not with Assemblyman Johnson’s ominous prediction that there will be less jobs in the county next year, but the governor announced the large number
  5. not consistent with Assemblyman Johnson’s ominous prediction that there will be less jobs in the county next year, instead of the governor’s announcement of the large number

 

Parallelism

Parallelism is one of the GMAT’s favorite devices on the Sentence Correction.  The GMAT loves this because it’s so flexible.  It’s a “higher order” feature of a sentence, which depends on not only grammar but also logic.  Suppose P & Q are two phrases or clauses that we want to put into parallel.  It’s not enough that P is grammatically correct, and separately, that Q is grammatically correct — that’s a bare minimum, but not sufficient.  In order to construct the parallelism correct, P and Q must match in their grammatical form and must serve the same logical role in the sentence.  There’s no simple formula for parallelism: we have to engage with the logic and meaning of the sentence.

 

What can be in parallel?

Of course, we can place into parallel individual words — two nouns, two verbs, two adjectives, etc.: “the birds and the bees”, “eat and run”, “necessary and sufficient”. These are simple examples of parallelism: while these may appear on sentences in the GMAT Sentence Correction, these will not be the focus of the question.  The focus of many GMAT Sentence Correction questions is complex parallelism: the parallelism of two phrases (prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, participial phrases, gerund phrases) or clauses (including substantive clauses).  The GMAT loves increasing the complexity, so that if P and Q are phrases or clauses in parallel, each one is likely to have a long modifying phrase accompanying it.  This complexity can make it more difficult to spot the parallel elements.

 

Markers of Parallelism

Almost always, two parallel elements will be joined either by a single coordinating conjunction or a pair of correlative conjunctions.  The three coordinating conjunctions that, by themselves, can join parallel phrases are “and“, “but“, and “or“.  Remember: “and” can join two elements (“P and Q”) or three (“P, Q, and R”), in which case the format is always [first term][comma][second term][comma] “and” [third term].

4) The government responds to inflation by raising the prime lending rate, limiting the money supply, and setting up cost-of-living adjustments for folks on fixed income.

Virtually anytime you see the word “and” on the Sentence Correction, some kind of parallelism is in play.  Two sets of words that, like coordinating conjunctions, can by themselves set two elements in parallel are “as well as” and “rather than.”

The most common correlative conjunctions on the GMAT are

not only P but also Q

not P but Q

both P and Q

either P or Q

Be especially careful with the first two: don’t intermingle their parts (“not … but also”, or “not only …. but” :( ) — that’s a common GMAT SC mistake pattern.   Learn to recognize the markers in bold in this paragraph: this will help you spot parallelism.

 

Logic and false parallelism

One of the more sophisticated mistake patterns on the GMAT Sentence Correction is what I would call false parallelism: that is, pairing two elements that superficially, grammatically, seem to match, but which logically play very different roles.  Here’s a simple example

potgsc_img1

Superficially, one might think these are in parallel — three correctly constructed prepositional phrases, each beginning with the word “with.”  At the level of pure grammar, absolutely nothing is wrong with this sentence.  At the level of logic, though, this sentence is a trainwreck.  This sentence puts in parallel three completely different meanings of a “with” prepositional phrase:

  1. materials: “with fresh vegetables”
  2. accompaniment: “with my friend Chris
  3. manner: “with a profound sense of satisfaction”

One of the three SC questions above employs this trap: can you identify which one?

 

Assorted thoughts on parallelism

= Many of the ways of stating a comparison involve parallelism. Toward this end, it is useful to review the idioms involved in comparisons, looking for indicators of comparison.

= Many idioms necessarily involve elements in parallel: for example, “to think of A as B” or “to consider P Q

= verbs in parallel need not have the same tense

= pay close attention to the placement of any common words in parallel structure (one of the sentences of the three above has issues with the placement of a common word.)

= pay attention to what implied words we are allowed to drop, and especially how to handle the tricky issue of repeated verb phrases.

 

Summary

If you had any “aha’s” while reading this blog, you may want to give the sentences above another look before reading the solutions below.  Here’s another practice SC question:

6) practice question

If you have any questions or comments concerning this important topic, let me know in the comment section at the bottom!  Thanks for your input!

 

Explanations to the Practice Questions

1) A question about the Great Liberator, Simon Bolivar!

Split #1: the idiom “P is remembered for doing X” is elegant way to refer to someone’s famous achievement.  The constructions “P is remembered in that he did X” and “P is remembered to have done X” are far more awkward and less smooth.  This is a problem with (A) & (B) & (C) & (D) all have problems with these.

Split #2: parallelism. The overall structure is “Bolivar is remembered ___ and ___” — those two blanks must have matching grammatical forms.  Let’s look at what’s in those slots:

(A) “in that he led … and for instilling” = NOT parallel

(B) “to have led … and that he instilled” = NOT parallel

(C) “to have led … and having instilled” = NOT parallel

(D) “for leading … and to have instilled” = NOT parallel

(E) “for leading … and for instilling” = CORRECT!

From either of these splits, we see that (E) is the only possible answer.

 

2) This sentence has three elements.  The first two can and should be in parallel — this means a single subject, Brutus.  Including the pronoun “he” after the “but” makes the sentence longer, clunkier — repeating the subject for verbs in parallel is unnecessary.  That’s the problem with (A) & (B).

The third element, though, cannot be in parallel.  Choice (E) is an incorrect choice for folks who are thinking too mechanically about parallelism, without thinking about the logic.  This is the trap of false parallelism.  It’s not Brutus, the person, who rises and falls — rather, it’s his reputation.  We can put the verbs “became” and “participated” in parallel after a single subject, but the third element demands a new subject: “his reputation”, as in (C) or (D).  Choice (D) doesn’t have a full independent clause following the word, so this is incorrect.  The only possible answer is (C).

 

3) Issue #1a: countable nouns.  “Jobs” are countable, so it is correct to say “fewer jobs”, and incorrect to say “less jobs”.  (A) & (D) & (E) make this mistake.

Issue #1b: countable nouns.  “Job opportunities” are also countable, so to discuss “how many”, we need to use the word “number”, not “amount.”  (A) & (C) make this mistake.

Issue #2: parallelism and the placement of common words.  The fundamental parallel structure is not P but Q.  Any common word can appear once outside, before the entire parallel structure, or twice inside, in front of each parallel structure.

No answer choice repeats the word “consistent”, so this must be before the entire parallel structure.  (A) & (E) make the mistake of putting “not” in front of “consistent”.

The word “with” can appear once outside (“with not P but Q”) or twice inside (“not with P but with Q”).  No answer makes use of the first correct, and only (B) makes use of the second correct.

(B) is the only possible answer.

 

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+!

10 Responses to Parallelism on the GMAT Sentence Correction

  1. Umang Mathur October 16, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    Dear Mike, Thanks a lot, for an awesome blog. I have a couple of queries.

    I eliminated 1 & 2 because of wrong usage of his – it’s not clear, to whom does he refer to. And on the same lines, i was confused on the usage of his. His can refer, both to Brutus and Caesar.

    Last but not the least, thanks once again for such a lucid concept of Once Outside and Twice Inside.

    P.S. I learned Once outside Twice inside from your earlier blog… :-)

    • Mike
      Mike October 16, 2014 at 11:27 am #

      Dear Umang,
      I’m happy to respond. :-) I’m very glad you found Once Outside, Twice Inside helpful!
      What you are asking gets into a subtle question. If I say, “Mike and Chris were talking when his phone rang,” that sentence is atrociously unclear — Mike and Chris were presented with equal focus, so the “his” could refer to either of them. By contrast, when a sentence clearly focuses on one person, for example, by making that person the subject of multiple verbs, then it becomes very clear that a general unqualified pronoun refers back to this person under focus. Brutus is the focus of the sentence in problem #2, so the pronoun unambiguously refers to him. If, in the middle of this sentence focused on Brutus, we wanted to mention something that belonged to Julius Caesar, we would have mention him by name again, e.g. “Caesar’s reputation,” because all the focus of the sentence points completely to Brutus.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike :-)

      • Umang Mathur October 16, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

        Dear Mike. Thanks to you, I understood one more concept… :-)

        • Mike
          Mike October 17, 2014 at 11:26 am #

          Dear Umang,
          You are quite welcome. :-) Best of luck to you!
          Mike :-)

  2. suraj November 3, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    In your solution to question#2 you have mentioned
    ‘Choice (D) doesn’t have a full independent clause following the word, so—-‘.
    What does this mean exactly ??

    -suraj

  3. PiyushK September 16, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    if C is the right choice in 2nd question then there should not be a comma between—>

    Caesar, but

    As per my understanding “, but” is acting as a coordinating conjunction here.
    Second clause must have either pronoun or proper noun or clear subject as a subject of the second clause.

    Kindly clarify the usage of coordinating conjunction.

    • Mike
      Mike September 16, 2013 at 10:11 am #

      Dear PiyushK,
      The part of the sentence with “… Caesar, but …” is not part of the underlined section, so it applies to all five choices. In (C), the “but” and the “and” act as coordinating conjunctions, and the commas are fine — there’s not a strict mathematical rule about commas and independent clauses.
      Mike :-)

      • vinay October 14, 2013 at 3:28 am #

        Please correct me if my understanding is wrong.

        In 2nd question we are comparing two past participle words i.e. became and participated.

        And does the coordinating conjunction (and) join a phrase and independent clause ? Because I think the below sentence is a phrase.
        Marcus Junius Brutus (85 – 42 BCE) became friends with Julius Caesar, but he participated in the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar “.

        Please advise

        Thanks,
        Vinay.

        • Mike
          Mike October 14, 2013 at 10:04 am #

          Vinay,
          Both “became” and “participated” are full verbs, verbs in the past tense. The participle for “to become”, used only in the perfect tenses, is “become”, as in “has become”. Thus, those are two independent clauses, each with a full verb, joined correctly by a coordinating conjunction.
          Mike :-)


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