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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 who 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).

 

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