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GMAT Grammar for ESL Students: Relativizer “That” and Implied Nouns

gmat grammar esl students

A noun in English is implied if the noun could be in a sentence, but is left out. Nouns are often implied but unstated with English relativizer “that.”

This grammar structure has sometimes occurs on the TOEFL. But the concept of implied nouns with “that” is especially useful to non-native English speakers who are doing GMAT prep. Below, we’ll look at this aspect of English grammar in detail.

Nouns That Mean “Idea” in Academic English

In academic English, nouns that label ideas are often omitted. So what nouns mean “idea? Obviously the noun “idea” itself refers to an idea. But several other nouns can also describe ideas. Here are a few synonyms for “idea” with example sentences:

  • concept
    Example sentence: The concept of the “horseless carriage” eventually led to the invention of the modern car.
  • belief
    Example sentence: The ancient Greeks had a belief that there were many gods, not just one God.
  • theory
    Biologist Charles Darwin’s theory indicated that living things evolved, changing greatly over many generations.
  • claim
    The accused thief’s claim of his innocence was not believed by the police, the judge or the jury.
  • assumption
    Ever since World War II, there is an assumption of potential global danger when when country tries to conquer another.

As you can see, all five example words above could be replaced by “idea” and the meaning of the sentence wouldn’t change.

The five example sentences above all represent high-intermediate academic English.  These five example sentences have a formal tone and deal with specialized academic subjects (technology, history, biology, law, and geopolitics) .

Nouns that Mean Idea in Complex, Advanced Academic English Sentences

The sentences I just showed you are very academic. However, they could be written at an even more advanced level of academic English. Below, I’ve revised these sentences to make them more complicated, more like something you might see in a grad school textbook. Here are the sentences again, now with added information and more complex grammar:

  • A seemingly unimportant nineteenth-century idea, the concept that a carriage could be “horseless,” pushed by an engine instead of pulled by a horse, eventually led to the development of a series of automobiles and the development of the modern car.
  • The ancient Greek religious belief, the idea that there were many deities and not just one, is very different from the modern Greek Orthodox Christian faith in one true God.
  • Charles Darwin, the famed British biologist, put forth an at-the-time-stunning claim, a theory that living things evolved, changing greatly over many generations.
  • The accused thief made a claim that no one believed, his claim that he was innocent and had been framed; this claim was rejected by the police, a judge, and a jury.
  • Ever since the conclusion of World War II, when world leaders witness one nation invading another, they usually make an assumption, a collective consensus that there is a potential for global danger, and that international intervention should be considered.

The revised sentences above are a bit harder to follow, aren’t they? And it’s not just ESL students that may have trouble reading these five expanded sentences. These sentences could be a challenge even for some native speakers.

Simplifying Complex Academic English Sentences About Ideas

Fortunately, there’s a simple yet powerful way to simplify complex sentences like the examples above.

To see how we can simplify this kind of sentence pattern, take a second look at the example sentences above. Notice that every “idea” noun phrase in bold has another “idea” noun phrase right before it or right after it.

The concept that…” is preceded by “nineteenth century idea.” “Belief” is followed by “the idea that….” “A theory that…” is preceded by “stunning claim.” “His claim that…” is preceded by “a claim that no one believed.” Finally, in the fifth example complex sentence above, “an assumption” is followed by “a collective consensus that…”

The pattern for these sentences is:

(idea noun)>>(idea noun restated)>>(relativizer “that”) >> (additional description of idea noun).

This is a tricky pattern. But sentences with this grammar pattern can be simplified so that they’re easier to understand. How? This is where the idea of implying a noun comes in.

In a Complex Sentence About Ideas, the Restated Idea Noun Can be Implied and Omitted

Here again is the pattern for complicated “idea-describing” sentences:

  • [[clause with idea noun]]>>[[idea noun restated]]>>[[relativizer “that”]]>>[[additional description of idea noun]]

Unless you are trying to put special emphasis on the idea noun, it really isn’t necessary to restate it. So the “idea noun restated” part of the pattern can actually be left out.

Thus, this sentence:

  • A seemingly unimportant nineteenth-century idea, the concept that a carriage could be “horseless,” pushed by an engine instead of pulled by a horse, eventually led to the development of a series of automobiles and the development of the modern car.

Can be simplified to:

  • A seemingly unimportant nineteenth century idea, that a carriage could be “horseless,” pushed by an engine instead of pulled by a horse, eventually led to the development of a series of automobiles and the development of the modern car.

Similarly, we can change this sentence:

  • The ancient Greek religious belief, the idea that there were many deities and not just one, is very different from the modern Greek Orthodox Christian faith in one true god.

By simplifying it to:

  • The ancient Greek religious belief  that there were many deities and not just one is very different from the modern Greek Orthodox Christian faith in one true god.

And so on. (As a learning activity, you can omit the restated words in the remaining three complex example sentences.)

How Understanding [[implied noun]]+[[that]] is Useful in the GMAT Grammar

The pattern of “idea noun”+”idea noun restated”+”that” can come up in GMAT Verbal Sentence Correction problems. It’s helpful to know that the restatement of the noun isn’t necessary. It’s also helpful to know that it’s OK to omit the “idea” noun from this structure.

How This is Helpful on the TOEFL

This sentence pattern and the use of unwritten, implied nouns is most common on the GMAT. But you may also see this construction in TOEFL Reading or hear it in TOEFL Listening, TOEFL Integrated Speaking, or TOEFL Integrated Writing. When this structure occurs on the TOEFL, it’s important to recognize it and understand which noun is being implied.

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