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Nested Grammatical Structures on the GMAT Sentence Correction

First, three challenging GMAT Sentence Correction practice problems.

1) Cosimo de’ Medici, a great patron of the arts, sponsoring two of  Donatello’s most famous works, statues of David and Judith, while supporting Brunelleschi to complete the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is known to be “Duomo.” 

(A) Cosimo de’ Medici, a great patron of the arts, sponsoring two of  Donatello’s most famous works, statues of David and Judith, while supporting Brunelleschi to complete the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is known to be

(B) Cosimo de’ Medici was a great patron of the arts, sponsoring two of  Donatello’s most famous works, statues of David and Judith, and supporting Brunelleschi in completing the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, known as

(C) Cosimo de’ Medici, a great patron of the arts, sponsored both of  Donatello’s most famous works, a statue of David and a statue of Judith, and  supporting Brunelleschi when he completed the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, that is known as

(D) Cosimo de’ Medici, a great patron of the arts, sponsoring the most famous two Donatello works, statues of David and Judith, he  supported Brunelleschi in completing the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, known by

(E) Cosimo de’ Medici was a great patron of the arts, sponsored both of  Donatello’s most famous works, statues of David and Judith, and he supported Brunelleschi when he completed the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, known as

2) When chemist Amedeo Avogadro (1776 – 1856) posited that equal volumes of different gases, at the same temperature and pressure, containing equal numbers of molecules, and many scientists, doubting that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured, but in the early 20th century, Perrin measured the value of “Avogadro’s number” by use of several different experimental designs.

(A) When chemist Amedeo Avogadro (1776 – 1856) posited that equal volumes of different gases, at the same temperature and pressure, containing equal numbers of molecules, and many scientists, doubting that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured, but in the early 20th century, Perrin measured the value of “Avogadro’s number” by use of

(B) The chemist Amedeo Avogadro (1776 – 1856), positing that equal volumes of different gases, at the same temperature and pressure, would contain equal numbers of molecules, and many scientists doubted that, even with this theory true, the number could not ever be measured, while in the early 20th century, Perrin measuring the value of “Avogadro’s number” using

(C) The chemist Amedeo Avogadro (1776 – 1856) posited that equal volumes of different gases, at the same temperature and pressure, would contain equal numbers of molecules, and many scientists, doubting that, even if this theory were true, the number could not ever be measured, but in the early 20th century, Perrin, measuring the value of “Avogadro’s number” by use of

(D) The chemist Amedeo Avogadro (1776 – 1856) posited that equal volumes of different gases, at the same temperature and pressure, would contain equal numbers of molecules, and many scientists doubted that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured, but in the early 20th century, Perrin measured the value of “Avogadro’s number” using

(E) The chemist Amedeo Avogadro (1776 – 1856), positing that equal volumes of different gases, at the same temperature and pressure, would contain equal numbers of molecules, although many scientists doubted that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured, but in the early 20th century, Perrin, measuring the value of “Avogadro’s number” by use of

3) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles.

(A) The Talmud briefly recounts the core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, although placing this story in context are events described by the two books of the Maccabees, appearing only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament instead of in the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(B) The Talmud, briefly recounting the core story of Hanukkah, with the single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, and only Roman Catholic Old Testament contains the two books of the Maccabees, which places this core story in context, unlike the Jewish and Protestant bibles

(C) The core story of Hanukkah, involving the single day’s supply of oil that lasts eight days, appears briefly in the Talmud, although the events that place this story in context are described in the two books of the Maccabees, which appear in neither the Jewish nor Protestant bibles, but only in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(D) The core story of Hanukkah involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, appearing briefly in the Talmud, while the events to place this story in context, described in the two books of the Maccabees, which does not appear in the Jewish and Protestant bibles, but instead in the Roman Catholic Old Testament

(E) Appearing neither in the Jewish bible nor the Protestant bible, but in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, the two books of the Maccabees provide the context for the core story of Hanukah, and involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, while it appears briefly in the Talmud.

Answers and explanations for these three behemoths will appear at the end of this article.

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Russian Dolls

Perhaps some readers are familiar with Matryoshka Dolls, known as Russian Dolls or Russian nesting dolls.  These vaguely egg-shaped dolls are designed to fit, one inside another, so that an entire set of, say, 10 or 12 dolls can be nested into each other, from smallest to largest, and the whole set can be completely contained in the largest member.

These dolls are an excellent metaphor for the GMAT Sentence Correction questions.  Any sentence must have a main clause, an independent clause with its own noun and verb.  A sentence may have more than one independent clause, joined by conjunctions, and may have one or more subordinate clauses.  Each clause, whether independent or subordinate, could contain an infinitive phrase, a gerund phrase, a participial phrase, or another subordinate clause.  Furthermore, any of those verbals — the infinitive phrase, the gerund phrase, or the participial phrase, could contain another infinitive phrase, another gerund phrase, another participial phrase, or another subordinate clause.   Some examples

4) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This sentence, of course, is the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  It has an independent clause “Congress (subject) shall make (verb) no law (direct object)” and then the rest of the sentence is a series of parallel participial modifiers, “respecting …. prohibiting … or abridging.”  Inside the final participial phrase are two infinitive phrases in parallel “to assemble, and to petition.”

Here’s another famous sentence with complicated nested structure.

5) When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

This, of course, is the opening sentence of the US Declaration of Independence.  The independent clause begins after the final comma: “a decent respect” is the main subject of the sentence, and “requires” is the main verb.  The direct object of this main verb is a substantive clause beginning with “that“; “they” is the subject of this substantive clause and “should declare” is the verb, and “causes” is the direct object of the verb.   This direct object, “causes” is modified by a noun modifier, an adjectival clause; the relative pronoun “which” begins the clause and is the subject of the clause, and “impel” is the verb.  That’s just the last third of the sentence.

The whole first 2/3 of the sentence is a gargantuan subordinate clause beginning with the subordinate conjunction “when“; the main subject + verb of this subordinate clause is “it becomes.”  After this verb, we have two long infinitive phrase in parallel, “for people to dissolve …. and to assume“, and each one of those infinitive phrases contains a subordinate clause beginning with “which” nested within it.  Obviously, this 71-word sentence is a little bit longer than the GMAT is likely to give you, but the intricacy of nesting patterns on the GMAT SC almost as dense and complex as it is in Jefferson’s opening sentence.

 

Typical traps

Any GMAT Sentence Correction sentence that has multiple layers is likely to exploit the confusion among layers with traps.  One obvious trap is the famous missing verb mistake.   Does every clause have its own bonafide verb?  Amid all the detail, does the main sentence have a bonafide verb?  Another trap involves parallelism, because of course parallelism can occur at any level — two parallel infinitives inside a participial phrase, or two parallel participial phrase inside subordinate clause, or etc.   A complex sentence might have two different parallel structures at two different levels, and confusing what is parallel to what can be a big problem.

There is no easy recipe for deciphering these long, multi-layered sentences.  It will help to develop a habit of sophisticated reading, so that you see complex sentence in context frequently.  As the above examples might demonstrate, some historical documents are an excellent source of long complicated sentences.   Patterns among conjunctions and other parallelism markers may be helpful.  Ultimately, one must wrestle with the logic and meaning of the sentence itself.

 

Summary

Here’s another complicated sentence for more practice:

6) http://gmat.magoosh.com/questions/3218

If you have any thoughts about these sentence or about what I’ve explained in this article, please let us know in the comment section.

 

Practice question explanations

1) The subject of this question is the great Cosimo de’ Medici, and mentions the great artists Donatello and Brunelleschi.

We need a full verb, and somehow the verbs “support” & “sponsor” need to be in parallel.

(A) de’ Medici … sponsoring … while supporting

This one commits the famous “missing verb” mistake.  It is incorrect. 

(B) de’ Medici was… sponsoring … while supporting

Correct.

(C) de’ Medici … sponsored … and supporting

A parallelism problem.  This is not correct.

(D) de’ Medici … sponsoring … he supported

This one commits the double-subject mistake.

(E) de’ Medici was… sponsored … and he supported … This is incorrect.

This is a variant of the double-subject mistake: [noun][verb], [verb], “and” [pronoun][verb].  This is incorrect.

The only possible answer is (B).

2) This sentence has three big chunks

chunk #1: Avogadro posited ….

chunk #2: many scientists doubted …

chunk #3: in the early 20th century, Perrin measured …

Insofar as each one is an independent or a dependent clause, it needs its own bonafide verb.  Furthermore, chunks #1 & #2 have “that”-clauses, and each “that”-clause also must have a bonafide verb.

On chunk #1

(A) When Avogadro posited …. and = incorrect

(B) Avogadro positing … and = incorrect

(C) Avogadro posited …. and = correct

(D) Avogadro posited …. and = correct

(E) Avogadro positing … and = incorrect

On the “that” clause in chunk #1:

(A) … that equal volumes … containing … = incorrect

(B) … that equal volumes … would contain … = correct

(C) … that equal volumes … would contain … = correct

(D) … that equal volumes … would contain … = correct

(E) … that equal volumes … would contain … = correct

On chunk #2:

(A) … and many scientists, doubting … but = incorrect

(B) … and many scientists, doubted … while = correct

(C) … and many scientists, doubting … but = incorrect

(D) … and many scientists, doubted … but = correct

(E) … and many scientists, doubted … but = correct

On the “that” clause in chunk #2:

(A)that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured … = correct

(B)that, even with this theory true, the number could not ever be measured … = awkward, double negative with the “not”,  not correct

(C)doubting that, even if this theory were true, the number could not ever be measured… = double negative with the “not”,  not correct

(D)that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured … = correct

(E)that, even if this theory were true, the number could ever be measured … = correct

On chunk #2:

(A) … but … Perrin measured … = correct

(B) … while … Perrin measuring … = incorrect

(C) … but … Perrin, measuring … = incorrect

(D) … but … Perrin measured … = correct

(E) … but … Perrin, measuring … = incorrect

The only choice that is correct on every score is choice (D), the only possible answer.

3) In Choice (A), the phrase that begins “although placing this story …” is questionable, first of all, because the word “although” should introduce full clause with a bonafide noun + verb structure, not just a participle.  Also, the GMAT does not like the structure “instead of”, and following “instead of” with a prepositional phrase is completely incorrect.  Choice (A) is incorrect.

In Choice (B), the first half, up to the word “and”, has no bonafide verb.  It commits the famous “missing verb” mistake.  The word “and” has a noun + participle in front of it, and a full clause after it.  Choice (B) is incorrect.

Choice (C) is direct and clear, and it contains no grammatical errors.

In Choice (D), the phrasing ” appearing briefly in the Talmud” is a misplaced modifier.  Also, after the word “while”, there’s no bonafide verb, just a noun and lots of modifiers.  This also commits the famous “missing verb” mistake.  Choice (D) is incorrect.

In Choice (E), the verb “involves” has no clear subject, but it’s clearly not the same subject as “provide”, so despite the “and”, these two verbs should not be in parallel; also, the antecedent of the “it” at the end of the sentence is unclear.  (E) is incorrect.

The only possible answer is (C).

 

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2 Responses to Nested Grammatical Structures on the GMAT Sentence Correction

  1. sambhav May 27, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    Sir i have a question regarding option B of question 1 and option D of question 3.
    As you have mentioned that in question 3 option D appearing is a misplaced modifier, same should be the explanation for sponsoring in option B of question no 1.
    Kindly reply.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike May 28, 2014 at 9:40 am #

      Dear Sambhav,
      I’m happy to respond. 🙂

      What constitutes a “misplaced modifier” is very subtle, and I believe you are misunderstanding. When several different nouns appear between the target noun and its modified, that’s a misplaced modifier, because it can appear that the modifier applies to something other than its intended target. In (3)(D): “The core story of Hanukkah involves the single day’s supply of oil which last eight days, appearing briefly in the Talmud …”, to what does “appearing apply? the “days”, the “supply”? The intended target is “the core story,” but that is separated from the modifier by both an independent clause and a noun modifying clause (beginning with “which“). That puts it much to far away from its intended target, and the large gap creates potential ambiguity.
      By contrast, in (1)(B): “Cosimo de’ Medici was a great patron of the arts, sponsoring …” the only two nouns are the name of de’ Medici and the word “patron”, and both of them refer to the same person, so there is absolutely no ambiguity about the intended target. With forms of the verb “to be,” the noun that follows the verb is identified with the subject, as in “P is Q,”, so there aren’t two “things,”, just one referent common to the two words.

      Does this make sense?
      Mike 🙂


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