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GMAT Grammar Rules: The Missing Verb Mistake

This post is about a patently obvious rule of grammar.  Sometimes the most obvious rules are not so obvious in the midst of complexity.  First, try this practice question about the famous 16th century Japanese military leader Oda Nobunaga.

 

Practice Question

In the 1560 Battle of Okehazama, in which the warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto was defeated and killed, Oda Nobunaga, recognizing that although being outnumbered ten to one, the terrain gave his smaller force a decisive advantage.

A. Nobunaga, recognizing that although outnumbered ten to one, the terrain gave his smaller force

B. Nobunaga, recognizing that although they were outnumbered ten to one, the terrain giving his smaller force

C. Nobunaga recognized that, although outnumbered ten to one, the terrain gave his smaller force

D. Nobunaga recognized that, although his men were outnumbered ten to one, the terrain giving them

E. Nobunaga recognized that, although his men were outnumbered ten to one, the terrain gave them

 

The rule

As obvious as it may seem to say, every clause needs a verb.  Period.  This sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Nevertheless, complexity lies ahead.

 

Clauses

There are two kinds of clauses: independent and dependent (a.k.a. subordinate).  An independent clause can be a stand-on-its-own sentence all by itself.  Every sentence needs at least one independent clause, and if the sentence involves a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, yet, so) or a correlative conjunction (not only … but also, either … or, neither … nor, whether … or) it can join two independent clauses.

A subordinating conjunction (after, although, as, as if, as long as, as soon as, as though, because, before, if, in order that, since, so, so that, than, though, unless until when, whenever, where, whereas, wherever, while, etc.) begins a subordinate clause.  This cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence — a complete sentence needs at least one independent clause.

Both kind of clauses need a full subject + verb.

 

The missing verb mistake

Unlike some other grammar rules, these rules are univocally black and white.  Despite the clarity, it is easy to get lost and lose track of where the verb is.  That’s mistake #1: getting lost in the complexity of the sentence, and losing track of what the main verb is.

Another common mistake, made often in colloquial English, is following a subordinating conjunction not with a full noun + verb clause but with only an adjective or a participial phrase.  Consider these:

2) Wherever found in Nature, diamonds are quickly mined.

3) Though running late, he stopped at the bank.

4) As seen on TV, the Acme Platypus Washer will give you the cleanest platypus in town.

All three of these may sound correct to your ear, but all three of these are wrong.  This is a very common GMAT Sentence Correction mistake, precisely because it tempts students who only rely on their ears.  Learn to spot this classic mistake pattern.

At this point, you may want to go back and review the question at the beginning, before reading the explanation below.

 

Practice Question Explanation

One of the splits in the answer choices is “recognizing” vs. “recognized”.  Notice that the entire first part of the sentence, before Oda Nobunaga’s name, consists of prepositional phrase and modifying clauses.  The verbs “was defeated and killed” is the verb of the subordinate clause following the words “in which”, so they can’t be the main verbs of the sentence.  Everything after the word “that” is another subordinate clause, so the verbs “outnumbered” and “gave” cannot be the main verb either.  We need a main verb.  The only possibility is: “recognized.”  We have to choose “recognized”, not “recognizing”.  (A) and (B) are incorrect.

What happens after the word “that” is tricky —– there’s one subordinate clause nested inside another.

Both clause #1 and clause #2 need a full noun + verb structure.  The classic mistake, I discussed above, would be if one or both of these clauses were replaced with a participial phrase.  In fact, that’s exactly what we find in two of the answer choices.

(C) clause #1 = participial phrase, clause #2 = noun + verb

(D) clause #1 = noun + verb, clause #2 = participial phrase

(E) clause #1 = noun + verb, clause #2 = noun + verb

(C) and (D) make this classic mistake, so only (E) is grammatically correct.  That is the best answer.

 

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21 Responses to GMAT Grammar Rules: The Missing Verb Mistake

  1. M August 12, 2016 at 8:41 am #

    Dear Mike,

    I am a bit confused and really appreciate if you could help me with the following two questions:

    1- I understand that after a ‘subordinate conjunction’ we need a full N+V. But the fact that some of those subordinate conjunctions can also act as a preposition makes it difficult to judge whether we can eliminate an answer because it is not using the N+V structure. For example I don’t know whether the following sentence is correct or not, as the word “after” can also act as preposition: “We will discuss the issue after taking a break”

    2- My second question is: are the following sentences wrong because there is only a noun after as soon as?
    – We will get your order to you as soon as possible.
    – Try to give as much detail as possible in your answer.

    Thanks a lot!
    I really appreciate your help 🙂

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 14, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

      Great questions, M. To answer them:

      1) You’re correct hat “after” can be a subordinating conjunction or preposition. In the example sentence you gave, “after” functions as a preposition, so it’s OK for the word to just be followed by “taking a break,” rather than a complete clause.

      2) The two example sentences here are interesting. Both are correct, but they are correct for different reasons. “As soon as” is acting as a subordinating conjunction, but it’s followed by a contracted form. The word “possible” that follows “as soon as” is a shortened form of “it is possible,” a complete clause. In the case of “as much as possible,” your second sentence in this question is not actually using “as much as possible” as a fixed phrase or subordinating conjunction. Instead, you have the noun “detail” int he middle of the phrase, making the whole phrase a noun phrase instead of a subordinating conjunction. “As much detail as possible” is the noun-phrase direct object of the verb “give” in this case.

  2. arron June 22, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    Hi Mike

    what about the following question from gmat prep
    Industrialization and modern methods of insect control have improved the standard of living around the globe while at the same time they have introduced some 100,000 dangerous chemical pollutants, having gone virtually unregulated since they were developed more than 50 years ago.
    while at the same time they have introduced some 100,000 dangerous chemical pollutants, having
    b. while at the same time introducing some 100,000 dangerous chemical pollutants that have
    c. while they have introduced 100,000 dangerous chemical pollutants at the same time, and have
    d. but introducing some 100,000 dangerous chemical pollutants at the same time that have
    e. but at the same time introduce some 100,000 dangerous chemical pollutants, having

    The correct answer is B, which uses while + a participle phrase

    can you please explain this use?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 21, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Hi Arron 🙂

      Good question! As Ron from MGMAT explains, it turns out that while some subordinating conjunctions require clauses all the time, others don’t. This has to do with idiomatic usage of the conjunctions, which means you’ll have to memorize which of the conjunctions require clauses all the same and which ones don’t. As you can see from the question you’ve asked about, “while” can be followed by an -ing participle!

      I hope this clears up your doubts 🙂

  3. SD November 4, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    Mike,
    Can you provide the corrections to the 3 examples listed below?

    2) Wherever found in Nature, diamonds are quickly mined.

    3) Though running late, he stopped at the bank.

    4) As seen on TV, the Acme Platypus Washer will give you the cleanest platypus in town.

  4. Carien June 8, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    Hi,

    Thank you the explanation about the missing verb. I understand the concept of subject+verb in every clause, but now I am confused why the following sentence is correct:

    “Through the expensive binoculars, the turkey vulture appeared to be the size of a robin.”

    The first part is a modifier right? But there is no verb or subject in that part of the sentence. Why is that?

    Many thanks in advance,
    Carien

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike June 8, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Carien,
      The word “through” is a preposition, and so the words “Through the expensive binoculars” is a prepositional phrase. Clauses have N+V, but phrases don’t. Here, the prepositional phrase is a modifier that modifies the verb —- it’s an adverbial phrase. See this article:
      http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/gmat-grammar-adverbial-phrases-and-clauses/
      Mike 🙂

      • Carien June 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

        Thanks Mike, great explanation!

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike June 10, 2013 at 10:10 am #

          Carien,
          You are more than welcome. Best of luck to you.
          Mike 🙂

    • Arpit November 14, 2016 at 3:38 am #

      Mike,

      Till now, I understood clauses as a group of words which had a noun and a verb, and phrases as a group of words which either did not have a noun or a verb. I am confused, after your response to Carien’s question.
      In the exam, we might expect the missing verb question. However, how do we decide if a working verb is needed, since, as per your response to Carien, phrases do not require N+V?

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 16, 2016 at 8:49 am #

        If I understand correctly, you’re not sure how to determine if you are looking at a phrase that doesn’t need both N+V or looking at an incomplete clause that’s missing a verb.

        There’s no one way to make this determination. But there is a broad rule that’s usually pretty easy to follow: If a verb is missing, the words that the verb modifies or connects to will not be missing. So you’ll have aclue that a verb should be there but is not.

        To show you how this works, let’s revisit Carien’s example sentence:

        “Through the expensive binoculars, the turkey vulture appeared to be the size of a robin.”

        Now, let’s suppose the sentence instead looks like this

        “Through the expensive binoculars quickly, the turkey vulture appeared to be the size of a robin.”

        Here, “quickly” gives a clue that the phrase “Through the expensive binoculars quickly” should actually be a clause, and is probably missing both a nun and a verb. The adverb “quickly” does not obviously modify “appeared,” because “turkey” is a stative verb, and verbs that describe the state of something are not generally modified with action-oriented adverbs such as “quickly.” Quickly also doesn’t seem to modify turkey because it appears to be inside the prepositional phrase, rather than outside of it and modifying a verb elsewhere in the sentence.

        Now, let’s look at one more alternate version of Carien’s sentence:

        “He through the expensive binoculars, the turkey vulture appeared to be the size of a robin.”

        This time we have what appears to be a subject (the pronoun “he”), immediately followed by a prepositional phrase, with no verb in between. Obviously, a verb should be added.

        On the GMAT, you will see these kinds of clear clues if a verb is missing. You won’t simply be presented with a phrase that works as-is, but could be changed by adding a noun or verb. You will only encounter instances where a verb must be added to make a sentence correct or a lot less awkward.

  5. Rajat April 26, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I understand the concept of missing verb. I wanted to understand in more detail about the ‘ing’ form of the verb and its correct usage. If you say we cannot eliminate Ans choice (A) based on the meaning alone please give some more insights.Could you modify (A) to make it a correct answer. Please do retain the participle.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 26, 2013 at 10:41 am #

      Rajat,
      (A) is wrong because it lacks a verb. Unfortunately, the only possible choice for a verb is the word that is a participle in (A) — “recognizing” would have to become “recognized”, so that the sentence as a whole has a main verb. That’s our only choice. It’s impossible to give that sentence a main verb and still keep that participle.
      This sentence is not a particular good sentence for what you want to see. Here’s another sentence —- “Newton, understanding the limits of mathematics at that time, invented calculus.” —- main verb, “invented” is a past tense, and the participle, the answer of “understanding”, is also understood in the past, matching the verb tense.
      Does this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  6. Rajat April 25, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Here, apart from the missing verb split, cant we look at this from a meaning perspective.

    Ex- Recognizing does not make sense in (A) and (B) (ex- tense)

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 25, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      Rajat,
      Actually, you can’t judge on that basis. You see, a present tense participle takes the tense of the main verb of the sentence —- e.g. “Yesterday, I saw a man walking his dog.” The “walking” is understood as in the past because the main verb is past tense. That’s why “recognizing” could be correct — if there were a main verb in the past tense. The missing verb mistake matters.
      Mike 🙂

  7. Lily October 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    I am getting confused with “Although”. Shall it be followed by a clause? Could it be followed by a phrase? How come this is a correct sentence: “Although the first U.S. auto company to manufacture compact automobiles, American Motors was never able to fully capitalize on its head start in the small car market.”? Shouldn’t although be followed by subject and a verb? Thanks!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike October 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

      Lily: That’s a great question. This structure of “although” followed by a participle or noun with a modifier is very common in colloquial speech and, in some instances, even in some sophisticated writing, for GMAT SC standards, it’s always wrong. The sentence you quote is a fine sentence that probably would pass as perfectly correct in almost every other context, but not on the GMAT. The word “although” *always* must be followed by a full noun + verb clause. Does this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

      • Dipankar February 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

        Although American Motors was the first US company to manufacture compact automobiles, it was never able to fully capitalize on its head start in the small car market.
        Is the above the corrected sentence??
        Although followed by a noun(American Motors) + a verb (was) ??

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike February 14, 2013 at 10:28 am #

          Yes, that sentence is correct. Following “although” is a NOUN (“American Motors”) and VERB (“was”), so that’s full clause, and after the comma, we have “it was”, another NOUN + VERB pair. This sentence is perfectly correct.
          Mike 🙂

          • Mike H January 16, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

            I wanted to be sure on this. Does the GMAT have a preference between the following “corrected” sentances?:

            1- Although American Motors was the first US company to manufacture compact automobiles, it was never able to fully capitalize on its head start in the small car market.

            2- Although it was the first US company to manufacture compact automobiles, American Motors was never able to fully capitalize on its head start in the small car market.

            • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
              Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 8, 2016 at 9:36 am #

              Hi Mike,

              Sorry for the late reply! 🙂

              Both of these sentences are perfectly alright. In isolation, I think the GMAT would give slight preference to the first version (introducing American Motors at the first opportunity) but they are both grammatically flawless!


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