In a previous post we had discussed how very often test-takers get stuck to the Major Error error when tackling Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT® .
The Major Error in a sentence might be related to tenses or parallel structure or modifiers. This error might be corrected in more than one sentence. What GMAT® test-setters do very well is introduce another Minor Error while correcting the Major Error.
The Minor Error more often than not is related to Subject-Verb or Pronoun Usage. The GMAT® question below best exemplifies this.
Neanderthals had a vocal tract that resembled those of the apes and so were probably without language, a shortcoming that may explain why they were supplanted by our own species.
(A) Neanderthals had a vocal tract that resembled those of the apes
(B) Neanderthals had a vocal tract resembling an ape’s
(C) The vocal tracts of Neanderthals resembled an ape’s
(D) The Neanderthal’s vocal tracts resembled the apes’
(E) The vocal tracts of the Neanderthals resembled those of the apes
In the original sentence, the comparison is incorrect; the vocal tract (singular) of the Neanderthals is compared with those (plural) of the apes.
The first error is corrected in all the 4 options apart from (A). But test-takers, unaware of the Minor Error being tested, split hairs between the apes’ (which is perfectly correct but not common) and an ape’s (which is more common) and then reject (D). Somehow after a lot of back and forth between options they end up choosing (C) or (E).
Also, this is one question that a lot of test-takers answer incorrectly when it is re-presented to them at a later date even if they got it right the first time round!
The main reason behind this is that all this while they never really identified the Minor Error tested on the question.
As discussed, the Minor Error is more often than not related to Subject-Verb. What is the subject of the sentence? The clue more often than not lies in the non-underlined part.
Who are the “they” being supplanted, the Neanderthals or their vocal tracts? Obviously it is the Neanderthals and hence the subject has to be Neanderthals and not their vocal tracts. So straightway (C), (D) and (E) are eliminated and (B) is the only option you are left with.
The reason why minor errors are usually related to subject-verb or pronoun errors is that these errors are tougher to pick since they are less obvious; sentences will sound perfectly fine despite having an incorrect subject!
Let us look at another question, this time involving parallelism as the major error.
To force a person to retire solely because they have reached a certain arbitrary age is like denying a person a job because of sex, race, or religion.
(A) To force a person to retire solely because they have reached a certain arbitrary age is like denying a person a job
(B) Forcing a person to retire solely because they have reached a certain arbitrary age is like denying a person a job
(C) Forcing people to retire solely because they have reached a certain arbitrary age is like to deny a person a job
(D) Forcing people to retire solely because they have reached a certain arbitrary age is like denying people jobs
(E) To force people to retire solely because they have reached a certain arbitrary age is like denying people jobs
The Major Error is related to parallelism — the verbs, deny and force, have to be in the same form; either to force and to deny or forcing and denying.
This is corrected only in options B and D. How do you choose between the two? You have to look for the minor error, especially looking out for subject and pronoun related issues.
Option B uses the plural they to refer to the singular person — forcing a person to retire because they — making it incorrect, leaving D as the only possible option.
So, test-takers looking to improve their strike-rate on GMAT® Sentence Correction should read the entire option just to check if any minor error has been introduced like in option (C), (D) & (E) of the sentence discussed.
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But isn’t “they” also used as a singular pronoun when gender is not clear?