GMAT Tips from Veritas Prep

Word Order Does Not Matter on Sentence Correction


Word Order Does Not Matter on Sentence Correction

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This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

Word order often does not matter on sentence correction. To put it another way, on Sentence Correction, the order of the words often does not matter.

In the Veritas Prep Advanced Verbal Lesson we learn that the testmaker has many tools available to make sentence correction more difficult. One of those tools is to “hide the right answer.” Hiding the right answer can be as simple as using a phrase you are not looking for: “He was so slow as to take twice as long to get there,” when you are looking for, “He was so slow that he took twice as long to get there.” The first sentence might sound strange to you, but that is no reason to eliminate it. It could be the correct answer depending on what the rest of the sentence says. The second option might contain an actual error in grammar or logic.

Word order is another way the testmaker can hide the correct answer, giving you an answer in a way that you are not expecting. Instead of using an unfamiliar phrase, such as “as to take,” the testmaker simply rearranges the sentence to make a perfectly ordinary sentence seem unfamiliar.

What do you think of this sentence?

“Marketing accounts for twice as much of the industry budget as does research.”

That sentence was identified by Microsoft (MSFT) Word as having a grammar error, yet it is the correct answer to a GMAT question. When I change the sentence to “Marketing accounts for twice as much of the industry budget as research does,” Microsoft Word is quite satisfied, but the GMAT test writers do not really care; either sentence works just as well on the GMAT.

Try the following problem from the Veritas Prep Sentence Correction book:

Out of a growing pride in the region’s pre-automotive achievements have developed a committee for the preservation of Detroit’s landmarks and artifacts that are creating monuments and museums across the city.

a) have developed a committee for the preservation of Detroit’s landmarks and artifacts that are creating

b) has developed a committee for the preservation of Detroit’s landmarks and artifacts that is creating

c) has developed a committee for the preservation of Detroit’s landmarks and artifacts that create

d) have developed a committee for the preservation of Detroit’s landmarks and artifacts that is creating

e) have developed a committee for the preservation of Detroit’s landmarks and artifacts that create

This problem is a great example of subject-verb inversion. Knowing that the subject of the sentence cannot be within a prepositional phrase, we can look past “out of a growing pride” and “in the region’s pre-automotive achievements.” The sentence then begins “has/have developed a committee for the preservation ….”

This is subject-verb inversion. The verb appears before the subject and makes the sentence seem very awkward. Since word order often does not matter on the GMAT, however, you not only can accept this sentence; you also can rearrange the sentence as you work toward the correct answer.

In other words, as you evaluate the answer choices, simply read them with the subject first: “a committee has/have developed for the preservation…” By rearranging the sentence, it becomes clear that the subject “a committee” is singular and requires the singular verb “has developed.” This eliminates choices A, D, and E, all of which use the plural “have developed.”

Reading choices B and C with the subject first also makes it clear that it is “a committee … that is creating monuments and museums across the city.” Choice B is the correct answer, as it features the singular “is creating,” while choice C uses the plural “create.”

For this question, word order was a disguise for what would otherwise be a straight-forward choice between singular and plural verbs. In cases like this, word order does not matter. Of course I am not saying that word order never matters, but be careful using word order to eliminate an answer choice. Make sure the answer is truly wrong and not just unexpected.

You can boost your GMAT score by knowing when not to take word order too seriously. As a general rule of thumb, look for word differences first (“it” instead of “they”; “were” instead of “was” or “are”) and be patient with what you might consider a strange placement of words.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? Try our own new, 100 percent computer-adaptive free GMAT practice test and see how you do.


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