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Rhetorical Construction on the GMAT Sentence Correction

First, a few practice questions.

1) At the press conference, the CEO denied in the most strenuous terms that his corporation’s lawyers for the six charged senior officers they could provide undue favorable influence in the imminent embezzlement trials.

(A) for the six charged senior officers they could provide

(B) for the six senior charged officers had the ability of providing

(C) had the ability, for the six senior officers charged, of providing

(D) were able to provide for the six senior officers charged

(E) being able to provide for the six senior charged officers   

2) In his nearly three decades as the Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Enlai set in motion processes that had a major impact on U.S.-China relations: China entered the Korean War against the United States, at Zhou’s urging, and two decades later, because of Zhou, China normalized their diplomatic connections with the US when Nixon visited.

(A) China entered the Korean War against the United States, at Zhou’s urging, and two decades later, because of Zhou, China normalized their diplomatic connections with the US when Nixon visited.

(B) China entered the Korean War against the United States, at Zhou’s urging, and two decades later orchestrating Nixon’s visit and the normalization of US-China diplomatic connections

(C) Zhou urged China to enter the Korean War against the United States, and two decades later, because of Zhou, China normalized their diplomatic connections with the US when Nixon visited.

(D) Zhou urged China to enter the Korean War against the United States, and two decades later he orchestrated Nixon’s visit and the normalization of US-China diplomatic connections

(E) the US fought against China in the Korean War, because Zhou urged them, and two decades later, Nixon visited China and normalized US-China diplomatic connections, again because of him.

3) Guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” who named both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proved that sulfur was an element, contributed to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, was raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day.

(A) Guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” who named both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proved that sulfur was an element, contributed to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, was raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day.

(B) Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), naming both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proving that sulfur was an element, and contributing to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” he was raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day, until he was guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror.

(C) Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day, now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” until guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror, naming both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proving that sulfur was an element, and contributing to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system.

(D) Raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” named both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proved that sulfur was an element, and contributed to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, until he was guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror.

(E) Now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) was raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day, naming both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proved that sulfur was an element, and contributing to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, until guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror.

 

What is Rhetorical Construction?

Rhetorical construction is one of the most importantly tested areas on the GMAT Sentence Correction: this area accounts for almost a third of all SC questions in the OG 13.  It must be important!  What is it?

Rhetorical construction concerns how well a sentence is constructed.  Even if a sentence is grammatically correct, it can have several other problems —- too wordy, ambiguous, weak, indirect —- and these problems make the sentence less powerful, less effective.  A good GMAT Sentence Correction sentence has crisp and clear power, an active message, and laser-focus on the point it’s making.   For example, consider this disaster:

1a) Families that are happy share substantial similarities with each other with respect to the quality of their happiness, while the ones could generally be characterized as unhappy display an astonishing individuality with respect to the ways in which they manifest their respective modes of unhappiness.

Believe it or not, that sentence is actually grammatically correct.  There are no grammar problems, but it is swimming in rhetorical problems.   It is wordy, confusing, redundant, and generally a complete trainwreck.  This is so bad it wouldn’t even make it onto the GMAT as a wrong answer!  Here is a substantial improvement:

1b) Happy families are all alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Of course, this latter version is precisely what Leo Tolstoy wrote for the opening sentence of his masterpiece Anna Karenina, and especially compared to the first, dysfunctional version above, it is remarkably effective and direct — that is to say, it is rhetorically successful.

One way to think about good rhetorical construction is to think about advertising.  Advertising is not necessarily a source of good grammar or good diction, but in order to be successful, ads must be rhetorically strong.  If an ad is wishy-washy or ambiguous or confusing, the intended target will not receive a strong message and might even be turned off.   An effective ad communicates a strong message, and the person experiencing such an ad is very clear about what that message is.  In other words, that’s good rhetorical construction in action!

 

Summary

This post was designed to give an introduction to the idea of Rhetorical Construction on the GMAT Sentence Correction.  If you found the above practice questions challenging, the explanations below will discuss some specific points about rhetorical construction.   Further questions?  Ask in the comments below!

 

Practice Question Explanations

1) Split #1: the word orders “the six charged senior officers” and “the six senior charged officers” are awkward:  answers (A) & (B) & (E) have these variants.  It sounds awkward to mix the participle “charged” with ordinary adjectives.  The order “the six senior officers charged” sounds considerably more natural — it separates the adjective before the noun, where they should be, and the participle after the noun.

Split #2: idiom.  The idioms “able to do X” or “ability to do X” are correct, and the idiom “ability of doing X” is wrong: choices (B) & (C) make this mistake.

Split #3: missing verb.  In choice (E), instead of a full verb inside the “that” clause, we have only a participle, “being” — the subject “lawyers” has no legitimate verb.  (E) is incorrect.

Split #4: double subject.  In choice (A), we have the structure “… lawyers … they could provide” — both the noun “lawyers” and the pronoun “they” could be the subject of the verb, but they can’t both be the subject of the same verb simultaneously.

For all these reasons, (D) is the only possible answer.

2) Split #1: the subject, the star, of the first half of the sentence is clearly Zhou Enlai.  The sentence would have the most coherence if the second part also focused on this subject.   Only (D) clearly features Zhou as the subject in both halves after the semicolon.  This is not an absolutely deciding split, but gives us a suspicion that (D) is correct.   In particular, choice (E) has a particularly awkward and indirect structure that couldn’t possibly be correct even if it were free of grammatical mistakes (which it is not!)

Split #2: pronoun mistake.  China has quite a few people, but the noun China itself is singular, and therefore takes the singular pronoun, “it.”  Using “they” for “China” is incorrect: both (A) & (C) & (E) make this mistake.

Split #3: parallelism problem.  In choice (B), we have “China entered”, bonafide [noun]+[verb], then “and”, and then a participle “orchestrating”.  First of all, this is a complete failure of parallelism.  Moreover, it’s not at all clearly who is meant to be modified by this participle.  (B) is an absolutely disaster.

Indeed, as we suspected on rhetorical grounds, (D) is the best answer.

3) These long sentences with the whole sentence underlined are particularly hard.

Split #1: Rhetorical organization.  The elements of this sentence tell the biographical details of a particular individual.   While it’s not a strict rule, it would make more sense for the events to unfold more or less in chronological order.  We could make an exception if there were some clear reason to highlight some particular event or some logic that demanded an alternate order, but this sentence provides us with no such rationale.  In this respect, notice that (A) is a disaster, a completely cockamamie sentence that narrates events in reverse chronological order.  Sentence (A) is actually grammatically correct, but it is rhetorically completely unacceptable, both because of the bizarre order, and because the subject and the verb are ridiculously far apart.   (A) is incorrect.

In this respect, (D) does a particular good job of presenting events in chronological order.  At this point, we will simply notice this and set it aside.

Split #2: double subject.  Choice (B) is very awkward in its overall organization, and in addition, we have the structure “Lavoisier …. he was raised” —- either “Lavoisier” or “he” could be the subject, but they can’t both be the subject of the same verb simultaneously.  (B) is incorrect.

Split #3: missing verb.  In choice (C), the subject “Lavoisier” has no verb in this choice.    (C) is incorrect.

Split #4: parallelism problem.  In choice (E), we have “naming …. proved …. contributing”, a clear failure of parallelism.    (E) is incorrect.

For all these reasons, the best answer is (D).

 

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+!

8 Responses to Rhetorical Construction on the GMAT Sentence Correction

  1. prateek July 27, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    Raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” named both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proved that sulfur was an element, and contributed to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, until he was guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror.

    I have a doubt Mike . where is the verb for the subject Antoine Lavoisier because named , proved are all participles of name and prove .. and moreover there is an “and” before contributed so it can’t act as a verb …

    Please help me on this .. I am quite over this concept ..
    Prateek

    • Mike
      Mike July 27, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      Prateek —
      As a participle, “named” is a past participle, which is passive. It can only modify the object (e.g “The building, named for the president, …”) It absolutely cannot modify the actor, the person who give the name. Thus, in this sentence, it cannot be a participle modifying Lavoisier, so it *has* to be a verb.
      In fact, when we remove the modifying phrase (“now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry”), we get three verbs in parallel:
      “…Lavoisier … named …., proved …, and contributed …”
      Does this make sense?
      Mike :-)

      • prateek July 27, 2013 at 10:47 am #

        roger that ! ;)

        I am glad to have a mentor like you ..

        your posts in this blog are of great help ..

        • Mike
          Mike July 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

          Prateek,
          Thank you for your kind words. Best of luck to you.
          Mike :-)

  2. Ryan July 19, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    (D) Raised as a nobleman and educated in the leading scientific theories of his day, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), now universally recognized as the “Father of Chemistry,” named both “oxygen” and “hydrogen”, proved that sulfur was an element, and contributed to the formulation of what we now know as the metric system, until he was guillotined on highly questionable charges at the height of the Reign of Terror.

    Mike – I just had a question regarding 3, I quickly eliminated option D (obviously incorrectly) because the way I read it led me to “he did all of these things until he was guillotined…” – how do I know to break the sentence away so that the guillotine is only affecting the last item mentioned (his, at the time, ongoing contribution to the metric system)?

    • Mike
      Mike July 19, 2013 at 11:17 am #

      Ryan,
      The three activities lists are meant to convey the overall activity of his scientific career. This overall activity as a scientist was interrupted by his death. It wasn’t that he was specifically doing any one of these up to the moment of his death. This is a tricky — on the one hand, you can’t take wild poetic readings of writing on the GMAT: you definitely have to stick more to a practical, down-to-earth reading; at the same time, you can’f afford to be strictly literalist in a fundamentalist sense. This is a very subtle distinction. Does this make sense?
      Mike :-)

  3. Denice July 18, 2013 at 4:46 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Great Post ! Thank you for shedding light on one of the important concept tested in SC.

    I have a doubt for option A in the 3rd question, you mentioned that it had no grammatical errors, but
    1. Is there a verb for the main subject, Antoine Lavoisier. Since all the verbs named, proved, contributed and was raised and educated are a part of the parallel list formed by the relative pronoun ‘who’.
    2. is the list of verbs connected in the proper manner ? shouldn’t we need an ‘and’ before the last element in the list (named, proved, contributed and was raised and educated ).

    Thanks.
    Denice

    • Mike
      Mike July 18, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      Denice,
      It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say (A) is grammatically perfect. The word “and” would make it much clearer —- named, proved, *and* contributed inside the relative clause, and “was raised” serving as the main verb. The fact that all this is less than crystal clear is another strike against (A).
      Does this make sense?
      Mike :-)


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