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The Infinitive of Purpose on GMAT Sentence Correction

First, some practice questions.

1) Snakes molt their skins regularly, for the purpose of regenerating skin worn by ground contact and for eliminating parasites, like ticks and mites, and this made ancient people venerate the snake as a symbol of resilience and healing.

(A) for the purpose of regenerating skin worn by ground contact and for eliminating parasites, like ticks and mites, and this made ancient people venerate

(B) for regenerating skin worn by ground contact and for the purpose of eliminating parasites, such as ticks and mites, causing ancient people to venerate

(C) so as to regenerate skin worn by ground contact and to eliminate parasites, such as ticks and mites, and these shed snake skins made ancient people venerate

(D) in order to regenerate skin worn by ground contact and for the purpose of eliminating parasites, such as ticks and mites, with ancient people venerating

(E) to regenerate skin worn by ground contact and to eliminate parasites, like ticks and mites, and these cause ancient people to venerate

2) In the spring of 1778, the Continental Army installed a “great chain” across the Hudson River, at West Point, in order to prevent British ships to navigate into the vulnerable regions to the north.

(A) in order to prevent British ships to navigate into

(B) by preventing British ships from navigating into

(C) so that they prevented British ships to navigate to

(D) to prevent British ships from navigating to

(E) by means of preventing British ships from navigating to

3) The CEO of Laminar Flow gave his R & D team a new $300 million dollar research facility, with cutting-edge technology, that they can research potentially revolutionary innovations in.

(A) that they can research potentially revolutionary innovations in

(B) for conducting research about revolutionarily potential innovations

(C) that can be the place for them to research potentially revolutionary innovations

(D) where it would be conducting research into revolutionary potential innovations

(E) in which to conduct research into potentially revolutionary innovations

Infinitives

The infinitive is the “main form” of a verb.  It’s the standard form of a verb listed in a dictionary.  The infinitive form of a verb is identical to the present tense for that verb, except for the verb “to be.”  An infinitive = “to” + [infinitive form].  An infinitive often acts as a noun, and may be the subject of a sentence.

Infinitives often appear on the GMAT at the beginning of infinitive phrases.   Some verbs idiomatically take an infinitive, and this is a common reason why an infinitive appears in a GMAT sentence.

Infinitives of Purpose

The infinitive of purpose is another very common reason why an infinitive would appear in a GMAT sentence.  Unlike the aforementioned situation, in which only specific verbs idiomatically call for the infinitive, the infinitive of purpose can be used with any verb.  The infinitive of purpose expresses the reason for the main verb, the goal of the action of the main verb.
4) She visited Paris to see her former roommate.

5) He bought the new car to impress his girlfriend.

6) After World War II, the Soviet Union absorbed Eastern Europe into the Warsaw Pact, to protect itself from any more invasions.

7) Last October, Legacy Productions sold its East Asian divisions, to raise cash for its aggressive new research projects.

First of all, notice that this purpose, this goal, has to be expressed as an infinitive.  Any construction of the form [preposition] + [gerund] will not be an appropriate substitute.

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Variants

The standard form of the infinitive of purpose is simply an infinitive, “to do X“, that follows the verb and any object of the verb.  Two variants are “in order to do X” and “so as to do X.”  Both of these allow for some clarity: if there are multiple infinitives, or even multiply prepositional phrase beginning with “to”, then either of these phrase would make the presence of the infinitive of purpose more clear.

8a) He was no longer able to go to New York to see the international art exhibitions.

The word “to” appears several times in that sentence: once in an infinitive idiomatically accompanying the word “able”, once in an ordinary prepositional phrase, and once in an infinitive of purpose.  While it’s not strictly necessary, we can add a little more clarity to that sentence with the construction:

8b) He was no longer able to go to New York in order to see the international art exhibitions.

In this construction, it’s very clear which “to” phrase is the infinitive of purpose.

The construct “so as to” has already been discussed as an idiom of consequence.  This is considerably more formal, and therefore quite likely to appear in the GMAT Sentence Correction.

Summary

In your outside-of-the-GMAT reading, notice the infinitive of purpose.  This accounts for a large number of the infinitives used in formal writing.  Identifying this piece is crucial for understanding the logic of a sentence, and logic is the most underestimated factor in GMAT Sentence Correction.  Here’s an additional practice question from inside the Magoosh product.

9) http://gmat.magoosh.com/questions/3217

If you have any questions about what we discussed, please let us know in the comment section.

 

Explanations to the practice questions

1) Split #1: listing examples.  On the GMAT, it is forbidden to begin a list of examples with “like.”  We need to use the idiom “such as.”  In discussing the parasites, choices (A) & (E) make the mistake of using “like ticks and mites,” so these two are incorrect.

Split #2: the phrase “for the purpose of doing X” is a long wordy way to express purpose.  It is grammatically & idiomatically correct, but probably a bit too wordy to be correct on the GMAT.  Here, in both appearances, it is put in parallel with an ordinary “for” + [gerund] construction, which is never appropriate for showing purpose.  Choice (A) has “for eliminating” and choice (B) has “for regenerating,” so both of these are incorrect.

After these two splits, we are left with (C) & (D).  Choice (D) makes the questionable choice of putting an “in order to”  phrase in parallel with a “for the purpose of” phrase; this is certainly wordy, and may be considered logically incorrect on the GMAT.  The structure “with” + [gerund] in the second half of (D) is always incorrect on the GMAT.  This combination is enough to eliminate (D).

By contrast, choice (C) has the elegant structure of two infinitives in parallel after the “so as” structure, and the second half is logical clear.  Choice (C) is the best answer here.

2) Split #1: idiom.  The verb “prevent” idiomatically takes the preposition “from.”  Choices (A) & (C) make the mistake of following “prevent” with an infinitive phrase, which is idiomatically incorrect.  We can reject those two choices.

Split #2: navigating “to” vs. “into” the northern regions.   The choice of “into” is a little unusual, but it’s not incorrect.  We cannot reject anything on the basis of this split.

Split #3: cause vs. consequence.  The remaining choices present logical difficulties.  Consider the two actions:

(1) installing the “great chain” across the Hudson

(2) preventing the ships from navigating

What causes what?  Which is the cause and which is the purpose?  Clearly, (1) is the cause, the purpose of doing (1) is to accomplish (2); in other words, (2) is the goal.  Thus, using an infinitive of purpose for (2) would be appropriate, and that’s exactly what (D) does.   Both (B) & (E) suggest that (2) is the cause or means, and that (1) is the purpose or result, and this does not make sense.  Both of those are incorrect.

Choice (D) is the only possible answer.

3) Split #1: Pronoun agreement.  The “R & D team” is a collective noun: it may have many members, but as a noun, it is singular, and it requires a singular pronoun.  Choices (A) & (C) use the plural pronoun, so they are incorrect.

Let’s look at each answer individually.

Choice (A) is wrong because of the pronoun problem.  Notice that it also ends a sentence in a preposition.  Ending a sentence with a preposition was once considered completely wrong: it’s now in more of a grey zone, but I have only seen it appear as part of incorrect answer choices on the GMAT SC.  This is incorrect.

Choice (B) is wrong because it uses the “for” + [gerund] structure in place of an infinitive of purpose.  Also, the phrase “revolutionarily potential” changes the meaning from the original.  This is incorrect.

Choice (C) has the extremely awkward & wordy “that can be the place for them to ..” as well as the pronoun mistake.  This is incorrect.

Choice (D) has an extremely strange tense, the conditional progressive.  There is no reason for the tense to be conditional, hypothetical, and there is no reason for the tense to be progressive, happening right at this instant.  Because of the problems with verb tense, this is incorrect.

Choice (E) uses the elegant “in which” structure to avoid ending with a preposition, and it correctly uses the infinitive of purpose.   This choice is sophisticated and completely correct grammatically.  This is the best answer.

 

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9 Responses to The Infinitive of Purpose on GMAT Sentence Correction

  1. Alex April 5, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    Please help!

    I have some questions about the “in which to conduct…” structure of the third practice question, with the right answer included.

    ” The CEO of Laminar Flow gave his R & D team a new $300 million dollar research facility, with cutting-edge technology, in which to conduct research into potentially revolutionary innovations”

    I am not familiar at all with the “in which to conduct…” construction. I was expecting to see a “in which” introducing a relative clause (a dependent S+V structure). But, in this sentence it introduces an infinitive phrase. I don’t understand this construction and the function of its elements.

    1) What kind of structure is ” in which to conduct research…”? Is it a relative phrase introduced by a relative pronoun with a prep – “in which” -, phrase that modifies the noun “facility”? At the same time, within this phrase, is “in which” an adverb that modifies “to conduct” and thus it is part of the infinitive phrase?

    2) Please show me how the infinitive phrase “to conduct research…” is an infinitive of purpose if this phrase is a component of a larger phrase introduced by “in which…” that modifies “facility”?

    3) When can I use “in which + infinitive” instead of “in which + (S+V)”

    Thank you for your help

    Alex

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 19, 2016 at 10:01 am #

      Great questions, Alex. Let me answer them one at a time. 🙂

      1) Your guess is correct. This is a relative phrase, an alternative to using the relativizer “where.” You could say “where the team could conduct research,” “where the team will conduct research,” “where research is being conducted,” and so on. The alternative phrasing “In which to” is used as a relativizer here for a two reasons.

      For one thing, the phrase “in which to” puts all the focus on the purpose of the research facility, rather than on the actions of the R&D team, or on the activity of research itself. In a simpler but similar example, the phrase “glue that holds things together” focuses on the actions of the glue, while “glue with which to hold things together” focuses on the purpose of glue. The second statement does not explicitly state that the glue is holding things together right now, it just says that the glue is made for the purpose of holding things together. And similarly, the example sentence about the CEO of Laminar flow is saying that the lab was created for the purpose of research, rather than explicitly stating that research is already happening in the lab.

      The second reason this construction is used is to avoid ending the sentence in a preposition. As Mike mentions in his answer explanation here, ending a sentence in a preposition is a grammatical “grey area” that the GMAT likes to avoid.

      2) Yes, this is an infinitive of purpose, because–as mentioned above– this grammatical construction is being used to put the focus on the function/purpose of the “facility.”

      3) You can use this construction when you want to shift the focus to the purpose of a thing rather than the activities being done by/with/in the thing. And of course, you can also use this construction to avoid placing a preposition at the end of a sentence. (Using the construction in this way will make your language sound very formal.)

  2. Ananth February 23, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    Hi Mike,

    In the third practice question, it is mentioned option E is correct.
    “in which “. I am confused here ” which will always modify the noun it is in touch with correct?
    So it modifies cutting-edge technologies.
    This means there is a logical error.
    Please fill my understanding gap.

    Regards

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 23, 2016 at 11:01 am #

      Hi Ananth,

      Both “with cutting edge technologies” and “in which…” modify “facility.”

  3. Ankush November 11, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    Dear Mike,

    If the infinitive of purpose is to be the sole reason for marking the correct answer. Can you please elaborate what is wrong with answer choice B here in this official question.

    Responding to the public’s fascination with – and sometimes undue alarm over-possible threats from asteroids, a scale
    developed by astronomers rates the likelihood that a particular asteroid or comet may collide with Earth.

    A. a scale developed by astronomers rates the likelihood that a particular asteroid or comet may
    B. a scale that astronomers have developed rates how likely it is for a particular asteroid or comet to
    C. astronomers have developed a scale to rate how likely a particular asteroid or comet will be to
    D. astronomers have developed a scale for rating the likelihood that a particular asteroid or comet will
    E. astronomers have developed a scale that rates the likelihood of a particular asteroid or comet that may

    Not able to underline bu the actual question is here.http://gmatclub.com/forum/responding-to-the-publics-fascination-with-and-sometimes-80581.html

    I think the astronomers developed the scale ” to rate ” & not ” ” for rating”.
    Can you help me cement the gap in the understanding.

  4. satinder June 6, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    Hi ,

    I am still confused about the usage of ‘for verb+ing ‘ and to verb.

    I really not able to distinguish the usage of these two. Please help me to understand this better.

    Thanks

  5. Kenneth Sun May 26, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    Hi,

    I have a question about the answer to the third practice question.
    I know “in which” is the elegant way to put the propositional ahead of the infinitive phrase.
    But I am still curious about when we should use this – or other such proposition followed by “which”, such as on, to, etc. And I am also confused about the difference between this usage and that of which clause.

    Looking forward to your response. Thanks.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike May 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      Dear Kenneth,
      I’m happy to respond. 🙂

      This structure has nothing at all to do with infinitives. It’s about avoiding ending the entire sentence with a preposition — the alternative would be something along the lines of: “that they can conduct research into potentially revolutionary innovations in.”

      Grammatical purists, myself included, find it appalling to end a sentence with a preposition. Grammatical liberals, such as Grammar Girl, think it’s fine. The GMAT tends to be more conservative on this point: I have never seen an OA in which they end a sentence on a preposition.

      It can be used with any preposition.
      RIGHT: … the house to which they went.
      WRONG: … the house that they went to.

      RIGHT: … the highway by which he comes.
      WRONG: … the highway that he comes by.

      RIGHT: … a task of which she is fully capable.
      WRONG: … a task that she is fully capable of.

      Again, keep in mind, in the real world, this is a matter of taste, and what I calling “wrong” some others find perfectly acceptable. The “right” and ‘wrong” labels here reflect the standards of the GMAT SC.

      Does this make sense?
      Mike 🙂


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