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GMAT Sentence Correction: like vs. as

UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!

Sort out the bedeviling distinctions between these two words that confound many on GMAT Sentence Correction

Start by attempting these two questions on your own.  I will discuss the solution later in the post.

1) Balancing the need for sufficient food supplies with what constitutes a manageable load to carry was undoubtedly a concern at times for many ancient hunters and gatherers, like that for modern long-distance backpackers.

(A) like that for modern long-distance backpackers

(B) as that of modern long-distance backpackers

(C) just as modern long-distance backpackers do

(D) as do modern long-distance backpackers

(E) as it is for modern long-distance backpackers

2) The Book of Kells, an illumination of the four gospels produced in eighth century Ireland, a demonstration of what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art and incorporating such foreign pigments like indigo from India and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.

(A) a demonstration of what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art and incorporated such foreign pigments like

(B) demonstrated what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art and the incorporation of such foreign pigments like

(C) demonstrated what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art and incorporating foreign pigments as

(D) demonstrated what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art and the incorporation of such foreign pigments as

(E) demonstrated what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art and incorporated such foreign pigments as

 

Part One: Comparisons

For a variety of reasons, the GMAT loves comparisons on the Sentence Corrections questions.  First of all, the terms of comparisons must be in parallel, and the GMAT loves parallel structure.  Furthermore, the comparisons on the GMAT are almost never (single word thing) vs. (single word thing), but, rather, nouns modified by extended phrases and clauses, so that one has to read carefully to sort out which two things are being compared.  Finally, they love distinctions like the “like” vs. “as” distinction.

The word “like” is a preposition, whose object is a noun, so it’s used for comparing noun-to-noun.  The word “as” is a subordinating conjunction, which is followed by a full noun + verb clause, so it is used to compare events, actions.

1) Correct: Blue tits, like peacocks, demonstrate strong sexual dimorphism.

2) Incorrect: Blue tits, as peacocks, demonstrate strong sexual dimorphism.

3) Incorrect: Mahler died after composing his ninth symphony, like Beethoven and Dvorak had before him.

4) Correct: Mahler died after composing his ninth symphony, as Beethoven and Dvorak had before him.

If the comparison is simply between nouns, use “like.”  If the comparison involves a full subject + verb clause, use “as.”

In sentence #1 above, (A) & (B) construct the comparison so that it focuses on a noun, the pronoun “that”, so “like that” would be correct and “as that” would be incorrect.  Unfortunately, both of these are merely phrases, not the full subject + verb clause that would be parallel to the main clause.  Answers (C)-(E) all have “as” with a subject & verb, so w.r.t. the “like” vs. “as” question, all three work.  Distinguishing among (C)-(E) depends on the parallelism.  The verb in the main clause is “was”, a form of the verb “to be” — this balancing “was a concern” — and a proper parallel to a form of “to be” cannot be a form of “to do.”  Forms of the verb “to do” can form the proper parallel to almost any action verb, but not a form of “to be.”  Both (C) & (D) have “do”, which is incorrect parallelism.  Finally, we want to create a parallel to “many ancient hunters and gatherers. Those words are preceded by the preposition “for”, so the parallel term must contain this same preposition.  Choice “E” has the correct preposition “for”, the correct “like” vs. “as” structure, and a form of “to be”: it has an elegant structure that is correct and far superior to the other incorrect choices.

 

Part Two: Examples

The words “like” and “as” are also used in listing examples, but here we have to know a specific idiom.  The unadorned “like” is used in colloquial speech, but the word “as” needs the word “such” —

5) Passerine birds like sparrows and swallows, ….

6) Passerine birds such as sparrows and swallows, ….

7) Such passerine birds as sparrows and swallows, ….

Notice, the “such … as” construction may involve the two words next to each other, or (as is far more likely on the GMAT SC!) separated by a word or words followed by an extended modifier.  Notice also that the use of “like” for a list of examples is always incorrect on the GMAT.

The second sentence, about the Book of Kells, a work of which I am deeply enamored, explores the “like”/”as”/”such as” split in a list of examples.  That sentence gives an example of “foreign pigments”, and the two examples are “indigo from India and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.”  The possibilities are

Incorrect = “foreign pigments like indigo etc.” (none of the answers)

Correct = “such foreign pigments as indigo etc.” (answers (D) & (E))

Incorrect: “foreign pigments as indigo etc.” (missing the word “such”, answer (C))

Incorrect: “such foreign pigments like indigo etc.” (the disastrous “such…like” combination, answers (A) & (B).

That split immediately narrows the choices down to (D) and (E).  To finish the problem off, we need to consider the near-ubiquitous issue of parallelism.  The words “demonstration/demonstrated” and “incorporation/incorporated” need to be in the same form: in fact, they both need to be verbs, so that the subject “the Book of Kells” has a bonafide verb.  The only answer to get all of these correct is (E).

 

Here’s another SC question for further practice.

 

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13 Responses to GMAT Sentence Correction: like vs. as

  1. Shashank September 1, 2016 at 12:19 am #

    Dear Mike,
    As always, your articles are exemplary of excellence, in other words, they are super awesome! I do have a doubt..
    My 2 cents on the problem concerning “The Book of Kells”. I narrowed it all down to (D) and (E).
    I think that both are parallel and correct. We know already why (E) is correct. Allow me to explain why I think that (D) is also correct :-

    demonstrated [what many consider the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art] and [the incorporation of such foreign pigments as….Afghanistan]

    Breaking the sentence into two with parallel entities..we get..
    1. demonstrated [what many…art] Substantive Clause playing the role of a Noun.
    2. demonstrated [the incorporation of….] (the incorporation)Noun. Something can be demonstrated.

    So this sentence is correct IMO, but wordier. I did choose E as my answer. Please throw some light on my analysis.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

      That’s a pretty good analysis, but there are still some problems with (D) as the correct answer. The biggest problem with (D) is that its grammar and meaning are ambiguous. It could be describing The Book of Kells as both “the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art” and “the pinnacle of… the incorporation of such foreign pigments as…” Or there could be just one pinnacle. In choice (D), maybe the sentence is saying that the book of Kells was “the pinnacle of Celtic knotwork art” and involved “the incorporation of such foreign pigments as….” In this case, the sentence would be saying that the knotwork in the Book of Kells was exceptional and could be described as “pinnacle,” while also saying that the use of foreign pigments was present int he book, but not necessarily the best or the “pinnacle.”

      Additionally, using “demonstrated” only once but applying it to two long complex noun phrases is confusing. This stylistic choice makes the sentence hard to follow. It would be better to follow “demonstrated the pinnacle…” with a repeat use of “demonstrated,” saying “demonstrated the incorporation” as a follow up. That would be more in line with the GMAT’s clear, straightforward style.

  2. uday June 10, 2015 at 4:39 am #

    Amazing explanation. By far the best that I have seen until now !!
    Thanks.

  3. gaurav soni May 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    Thanks the great article Mike.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike May 15, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

      Dear Gaurav,
      You are quite welcome. Best of luck to you!
      Mike 🙂

  4. Helen December 4, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    This was AWESOME. Very clear and easy to understand. Thank you so much!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 4, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      Helen,
      You are quite welcome. Best of luck to you, my friend.
      Mike 🙂

  5. rajath March 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    In the Sentence#1 could you elaborate on Ans choice A?? The rest all are fine with me.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike March 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

      Choice A has a pronoun problem — the pronoun “that” in “like that for ….” refers to what antecedent? The antecedent is most certainly not the noun touching the phrase, “many ancient hunters and gatherers”, so there’s a Touch Rule problem. Does that make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  6. Confuse Mind August 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Sometimes, I feel a need to compare actions and not nouns in some sentences.

    Is it essential to compare actions in the some sentence?

    Is the first sentence in each pair wrong?

    Julie was able to climb the tree as fast as her brothers.
    Julie was able to climb the tree as fast as her brothers did.

    The blue dress looks more flattering on you than the red one.
    The blue dress looks more flattering on you than the red one does.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

      Actually, both first sentences are correct, because omitting the verb introduces no ambiguity. By contrast, the sentence
      “Jill likes Harry as much as Jack.”
      is wildly ambiguous and hence incorrect. It need to be either:
      “Jill likes Harry as much as she likes Jack.” or
      “Jill likes Harry as much as Jack does.”
      Does this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  7. Confuse Mind August 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    In the explanation, I found a sentence – “You should act like this” – is correct.
    Can you please explain how it is so?

    here, the action – act – is being compared and thus the usage of like seems wrong. No?

    Thanks!


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