The word “that” is a very tricky word, because it has many different roles. Here are four GMAT Sentence Correction practice problems employing “that” in some of its roles.
1) The Coriolis Effect is responsible for the apparent forces that they turn ocean currents and storm systems clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, but it appears as a force, being just the inertia of the matter to obey Conservation of Angular Momentum.
(A) they turn ocean currents and storm systems clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, but it appears as a force, being just the inertia of the matter to obey
(B) they turn ocean currents and storm systems clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, but that which appears as a force, just the inertia of the matter, obeying
(C) turn ocean currents and storm systems clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and it appears as a force, is just the inertia of the matter, and obeys
(D) turn ocean currents and storm systems clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, but what appears as a force is just the inertia of the matter obeying
(E) turn ocean currents and storm systems clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and that, appearing as a force, is just the inertia of the matter to obey
2) Federal investigators uncovered an embezzling scheme in the insurance division, and that does even not account with the mysterious shortfalls in the finance division.
(A) and that does even not account with
(B) but even that does not account for
(C) but that it does not even account with
(D) and that this scheme even does not account for
(E) but that this scheme does not account even for
3) Opposing government interference to the action of the free market, William Gladstone, a Liberal in the classical sense, since he believed low taxes and balanced budgets were beneficial to democracy.
(A) Opposing government interference to the action of the free market, William Gladstone, a Liberal in the classical sense, since he believed low taxes and balanced budgets were beneficial to democracy.
(B) William Gladstone was a Liberal in the classical sense opposing government interference to the action of free markets, because he believed democracy would be benefited by low-taxes and balanced budgets.
(C) William Gladstone, a Liberal in the classical sense, opposed governments interfering with the action of the free market, and believed that low taxes and balanced budgets were beneficial for democracy.
(D) A Liberal in the classical sense, William Gladstone, opposed to governments interfering in the action of the free market, and believing in low taxes and balanced budgets as a benefit for democracy.
(E) A Liberal in the classical sense, William Gladstone, who opposed to governments interfering for the action of the free market, and he believed that low taxes and balanced budgets were beneficial with democracy.
4) The Phlogiston theory attempted to explain combustion in terms of the release of a “heat substance” from the burning material, but that theory was inconsistent with the increase in mass of the oxides resulting from combustion.
(A) that theory was inconsistent with the increase in mass of the oxides
(B) that theory was inconsistent to the increasing mass of the oxides
(C) that this theory was inconsistent with more mass for the oxides
(D) that this theory was inconsistent for increasing the oxides’ mass
(E) that theory had inconsistencies in the larger masses of the oxides
The word “that” primarily has four different uses in English:
a) as a demonstrative adjective
b) as a demonstrative pronoun
c) as a subordinate conjunction
d) as a relative pronoun
I will explain each in sections below. I will just point out, here, that it is not necessary for the GMAT to know any of these fancy grammar terms; we folks who try to explain all this grammar have to use these terms for clarity, but once you know the grammar, you don’t need the terms anymore.
As a demonstrative adjective
The word “that” can be used as a demonstrative adjective, that is to say, as a noun-modifier that indicates precisely which noun is meant. In this role, it always immediately precedes the noun it modifies.
5) I enjoyed that movie.
6) Ronke recommended using kale in the salad, but I do not like that vegetable.
7) The student wanted to use the Square of a Difference formula, but that formula was not applicable in the problem.
In each of these, the word “that” comes immediate before a noun, and its entire role just to modify that noun. Just a simple noun modifier — this is one of the roles of the word “that.”
As a demonstrative pronoun
The word “that” can be used as a demonstrative pronoun. Like any pronoun, in this role the word “that” stands in for a noun, and of course, the noun it represents must be a proper antecedent somewhere in the sentence. All the informal constructions involving the contraction “that’s” (cf. #8) use the word in this sentence, although these informal constructions are not likely fodder for the GMAT Sentence Correction. Often, the pronoun “that” is used as a stand-in for a much longer phrase in a comparison (e.g. “… similar to that of the French people”); this is a common use of the demonstrative pronoun use of “that” on the GMAT.
8) That’s not what I think!
In each of those sentence, the word “that” is an ordinary pronoun, standing in for a noun. The first is an informal sentence, and the antecedent would be something mentioned earlier in the conversation. In the latter two, which are more formal, the antecedent appears earlier in the sentence: “a costly defeat” in #9 and “a series” in #10.
As a subordinate conjunction
The word “that” can be used as a subordinate conjunction, that is, as a word that marks the beginning of a dependent clause. The dependent clause, like any clause, would have a full [noun] + [verb] structure, so the word “that” would be followed by a bonafide noun, the subject of the clause, and a bonafide verb, the verb of the clause. The “that” clause that follows all the verbs that take “that” clauses, the information verbs of thinking, knowing, and communicating all employ “that” as a subordinate conjunction. Substantive clauses also use “that” as a subordinate conjunction. The idioms of consequence, such as “so” [adjective] “that” and “such” [noun] “that” are yet another use of “that” as a subordinate conjunction.
11) I know that she will be late.
12) Ancient Greek astronomers, such as Eudoxus, knew that the Earth was round.
13) Johann Fitche argued that one’s awareness of one self as a free individual is essentially a social phenomenon and depends on the awareness of other human subjects.
In all three cases, a full [noun] + [verb] structure follows the subordinate conjunction “that.”
As a relative pronoun
The word “that” can be used as a relative pronoun; in other words, as a pronoun that begins a subordinate clause and is the subject of that clause. A relative pronoun not only marks the beginning of a dependent clause, as a subordinate conjunction does, but also, unlike a subordinate conjunction, acts as the subject of that dependent clause. Thus, in this use, the word “that” would be the subject and would be followed by a verb. The “that” could also be the direct object of the verb. Notice that we never use the word “that” to refer to a person: the GMAT fastidiously avoids such usage; instead, we would use the relative pronoun “who.”
14) There is no English word that rhymes with orange.
15) A nation that is unwilling to fight for liberty arguably does not deserve liberty.
16) For years, English and French engineers dreamed of a tunnel that would connect the two countries.
In each case, “that” is a pronoun, whose antecedent is the word immediately preceding it, and “that” is also the subject of the dependent clause it starts.
Mistake uses of “that”
One incorrect use of “that” involves using the word to refer to an entire action. The word “that” is only a pronoun, and pronouns can take the place of nouns, but pronouns can’t substitute for an entire clause.
The word “that” cannot refer to an action, such as blocking penalty kicks. We would need to use a new noun that captures the meaning:
17b) The goalkeeper blocked two penalty kicks in the second half, and these stellar defensive plays caused his team to win the game.
or, even more concisely, a participial phrase modifier.
17c) The goalkeeper blocked two penalty kicks in the second half, causing his team to win the game.
A similar mistake involve repeating a predicate. For example,
Once again, we cannot use “that” as the substitute for the action of a verb phrase, nor could we use any other pronoun (e.g. “this“) or noun phrase (e.g. “the same thing“). Here is the correct way to rewrite that sentence.
For more on this mistake, see Repeating Verb Phrases on the GMAT.
Those are the four major uses of “that” on the GMAT. As you can see, what is perfectly correct for one might be completely wrong for another, so it’s very important to keep these different structures straight. Here’s a related practice question from inside the product
If you notice any other uses of “that”, or need something here clarified, please let us know in the comments section.
Practice question explanations
1) The first issue is what follows the “that” clause. Here, “that” should be in the relative pronoun role discussed in this blog. The word “that” is the subject of the clause it begins. We don’t need another pronoun, “they“, and this pronoun would have no clear antecedent anyway. Choice (A) & (B) are incorrect.
The idea of the second half is that what appears as a force is something else. In the first place, we need a contrast word, to mark the difference from the power expressed in the first half of the sentence. The word “but” in choices (B) & (D) is best. Choice (C) mechanically puts all the elements in the second half in parallel, but logically, they are not parallel element. The “appearing as a force” is in sharp contrast to being “just the inertia of the matter”, and putting these two in parallel obscures that contrast. Choice (C) is incorrect.
The infinitive “to obey“, at the end of the underlined section, is awkward. It seems to suggest purpose, but of course nothing is doing anything for the purpose of obey a law of Physics. We just want to describe a consequence of the behavior of the matter, so the participle, “obeying“, would be more appropriate. Choice (E) has the infinitive and is incorrect.
Choice (D) makes no mistakes and correct communicates the relationship of ideas in the second half. Choice (D) is the best answer.
2) Split #1: idiom with “account.” The correct idiom is account for: when we say “X accounts for Y,” we are saying that X explains Y or gives the reason for Y. That’s the meaning here. The construction “account with” is wrong, so choices (A) & (C) are incorrect.
Split #2: contrast. The first half of the sentence tells us that the Feds arrived and uncovered embezzling —that’s good! It means that crimes are being stopped. Then, the second half tells that that crimes are still going on. That’s a contrast, and we need the contrast word “but” at the beginning of the underlined section, so choices (A) & (D) are incorrect.
Split #3: placement of the word “even.” The word “even” connotes an extreme that defies expectation. Here, we would expect that the “embezzling scheme” uncovered by the Feds would “account for” the other missing funds, but contrary to expectation, it does not. Even though the “embezzling scheme” is a major discovery, presumably bigger than previous problems uncovered, it is not enough to solve all the problems. The word “even” needs to be in front of “scheme” or its representative, the pronoun, “that”. Choices (A) & (C) & (D) & (E) are incorrect.
The only correct answer that conveys the logic and the natural flow of words is choice (B), the best answer.
3) A question about the Grand Old Man, William Gladstone (1809 – 1898).
Some of the choices commit the famous missing verb mistake. Neither choice (A) nor choice (D) has a main verb at all, so these are incorrect. Choice (E) has a variant of this: [noun phrase]”and”[independent clause], so the first half, before the word “and” commits the missing verb mistake. Choice (E) is also incorrect.
Choice (B) & (C) are the only two choices that are complete sentences, verbs and all. Choice (B) has a modifier mistake: the modifier “opposing government interference to …” touched the noun “classical sense“, but that is not what it is supposed to modify. That modifier is supposed to modify the subject, Gladstone, but that’s not clear from its position. Also, this choice oddly uses the word “because” as a bridge to the second half, and stating the causality in this way is questionable. Choice (B) is incorrect.
Choice (C) is grammatically and logically clear, and states everything with elegance and precision. Choice (C) is the best answer.
4) Split #1: In this sentence, the word “that” is in its role as a demonstrative adjective, so it should simply modify a noun. We don’t need a dependent clause — after the “but“, we simply need another independent clause. Choice (C) & (D) use the word “that” as a subordinate conjunction, which is not appropriate here; those two choices are incorrect.
Split #2: idiom with “inconsistent.” The correct idiom is “inconsistent with.” Choices (B) & (D) & (E) use the wrong idiom and are incorrect.
The only possible answer is choice (A).