GMAT Sentence Correction, GMAT Verbal
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Sentence Correction — Idiomatic Usage

One of the most important things that test-takers need to keep in mind about the GMAT® Sentence Correction is that it is a test of Written and not Spoken English. This distinction comes to the fore when phrases that sound correct to the ear are in fact incorrect as per the GMAT® and as we will see in this post the converse can also be true — what sounds incorrect to the ear can in fact be error-free.

One of the best examples of this is the usage of Such As V Like.

Consider this sentence — He likes sports like hockey and football. If you hear this sentence as part of a conversation, you will find no grammatical fault with it since it sounds perfectly normal. But that is where is difference between spoken and written English comes in.

On GMAT® Sentence Correction, like is always used to denote similarity. So in the above sentence the usage of like conveys the meaning that what he likes are not hockey and football but sports like hockey and football.

The correct sentence should have been — He likes sports such as hockey and football.

Such As is used to denote examples and Like is used to denote similarity.

The GMAT® question below best illustrates how this distinction is tested.

While the base salary for the top five officers of the company did not change from 1990 to 1991, cuts were made in non-salary compensation, as in allowances for overseas assignments and club memberships.

(A) cuts were made in non-salary compensation, as in
(B) cuts were made in such non-salary compensation as
(C) cuts were made in such non-salary compensation as those in
(D) cuts in non-salary compensation were made in areas like
(E) there were cuts made in non-salary compensation, in areas like

In the question above, the sentence intends to convey that overseas assignments and club memberships are the types or examples of non-salary compensation that were cut from the salaries of the top five officers of the company.

So the phrase that has to be used is non-salary compensation such as.

D & E are straightaway eliminated because they incorrectly use like. A is incorrect since as in is not used to denote examples.

Both B & C use such as but C unnecessarily adds those in at the end, making B the correct option. So the only option left is option (B).

The GMAT® question below is a tougher question testing the same concept.

Teratomas are unusual forms of cancer because they are composed of tissues such as tooth and bone not normally found in the organ in which the tumor appears.

(A) because they are composed of tissues such as tooth and bone
(B) because they are composed of tissues like tooth and bone that are
(C) because they are composed of tissues, like tooth and bone, tissues
(D) in that their composition, tissues such as tooth and bone, is
(E) in that they are composed of tissues such as tooth and bone, tissues

Option A is incorrect since tissues such as tooth and bone should be followed by something.

Since B corrects this most test-takers choose option B. But both B and C can be eliminated because they use like instead of such as.

Option D incorrectly ends with is instead of are since it is tissues and not tissue.

Once you have eliminated four options based on grammatical rules what is left has to be the answer; in this case option E.

Test-takers usually reject E and end up choosing B. In some cases they do this despite knowing that like should not be used. They usually do this for two reasons:

1. in that they are sounds weird
2. tissues is repeated

One of the cardinal rules on GMAT Sentence Correction is that you have to eliminate options based on grammatical rules and not based on weirdness.

Your ear will reject anything unfamiliar, but unfamiliar does not necessarily mean grammatically incorrect. In this sentence, in that they are is used to demonstrate in what way teratomas are unusual. This is a usage you will find on tougher questions on the GMAT, so be sure not to reject a sentence based on this.

So please ensure you should not choose an option despite knowing that is breaking a rule just because the other option sounds weird.

The word tissues is repeated to adhere to another cardinal rule — the subject should always be clear. If the option E uses that are instead of tissues there would no clarity as to what that are refers to — tissues or tooth and bone; repeating tissues ensures that there is no ambiguity.

This is one of the important types of idiomatic usage that is consistently tested on GMAT Sentence Correction. While it is easy to learn, it is also easy to overlook purely because the usage of like will not sound incorrect to our ear.

Over the course of the forthcoming posts we will discuss more questions involving idiomatic usage.

Feel free to drop in your queries in the comments section and start a discussion incase you need some clarifications.

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2 Comments

  1. The European Economic Community exported just under $400 billion in goods in 1988, sixty percent more than the United States did and nearly twice as much as Japan’s exports.

    A) the United States did and nearly twice as much as Japan’s exports
    B) the United States and nearly double what the Japanese exports were
    C) the United States exported and nearly twice as much as the Japanese did
    D) what the United States did and nearly twice as much as Japan’s exports
    E) what the United States exported and nearly double the Japanese exports

    “X exported 60% more than Y exported” or “X exported 60 % more than what Y exported” ?
    Are both right?

    Like

  2. Pingback: 10 Rules For GMAT Sentence Correction | The GMAT Blogger

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