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GMAT Sentence Correction: Modifiers and Meaning by ManhattanGMAT

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - GMAT Sentence Correction: Modifiers and Meaning by Reed Arnold Guess what? You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GMAT courses absolutely free—we’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here . Meaning. Important in life, important in GMAT Sentence Correction questions. I realized recently just how much the GMAT loves switching between verbs and modifiers derived from verbs (we nerds know these as ‘participles’) in SC. For example: The boy, running down the street so that he could meet his mother in time for dinner.
The boy ran down the street so that he could meet his mother in time for dinner.
You probably knew the first sentence was incorrect immediately, but the GMAT actually has that same terrible non-sentence as wrong answer choices all the time; they just hide it better. It’s called a ‘sentence fragment,’ precisely because it is not a sentence. It lacks an actual verb. The ‘—ing’ structure (the ‘present participle’) is actually a form of a modifier, a word or phrase that describes something else in the sentence. GMAT Sentence Correction makes its sentence fragments harder to spot, adding all kinds of other modifying phrases so that you lose track of the fact that, hey, there’s a not a single verb here. Whenever you see verbs and modifiers-that-look-like-verbs switching places in the answer choices, you should check for Big Structure Issues in your splits. Make sure you don’t have sentence fragments (no sentence), run-on sentences (two full sentences not joined together correctly), or other bad structures at the core of your sentence. Note that while ‘—ing’ modifiers are easier to spot, other modifiers really look like verbs. ‘Kicked,’ for example, could be the past tense or the past participle of ‘to kick.’ “The soccer player fell to the ground, kicked in the face by his opponent.” Here, ‘kicked’ is a modifier. “His opponent accidentally kicked him in the face, and he fell to the ground.” Here, ‘kicked’ is a verb. Point being, look carefully to see how a word is used in a sentence. The sentence will need different structures, depending on whether a word is verb or a modifier. But what I really want to talk about today is a more difficult and subtle way that GMAT Sentence Correction requires you to understand the difference between verbs and modifiers. To introduce the concept, I present to you two sentences: 1) He carries the trunk up the stairs, sweating the whole way up.
2) He carries the trunk up the stairs and sweats the whole way up.
Believe it or not, the GMAT prefers one of these sentences over the other. Why? There’s no grammatical issue here—both of these sentences are 100% correct when it comes to grammar and structure. The issue here is an issue with meaning. How so? One thing to note about ‘—ing’ modifiers: when they come after a comma, they modify an entire subject/verb clause. So in sentence 1, ‘sweating the whole way up,’ modifies the subject-verb clause, ‘He carries the trunk.’ This is nice, actually—it inherently links the sweating to the carrying. Sentence 2, on the other hand, isn’t quite so nice. We’re told he carries and sweats, but we lose the explicit connection between the two. Why does he sweat? Is it because he is carrying the trunk? Or is it hot? Or is he just a guy who sweats a lot? I mean, sure, we know why, but the GMAT prefers that the grammar also knows why. So it would choose sentence 1 here. With this understanding, take a look at these two sentences and see if you can figure out which one the GMAT would prefer: 1) He fell asleep on the airplane, annoying the other passengers with his snoring.
2) He fell asleep on the airplane and annoyed the other passengers with his snoring.
“Well you just told me they prefer the —ing modifier to grammatically link the actions, so 1 again.” Hold up. “God I hate you.” I know. I didn’t say they always want the actions linked grammatically. They want that when it makes sense to link them . In sentence 1, the ‘comma,—ing’ modifier “annoying” modifies which clause? (Try on your own first. Here’s an image of a kangaroo drinking a beer so you can’t see the answer accidentally): Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - GMAT Sentence Correction: Modifiers and Meaning by Reed Arnold “He fell asleep on the airplane.” Right. So does that specific action really make sense with that specific modifier? Did he annoy the other passengers as he fell asleep? Did he snore as he fell asleep? No he did not. Those things happened afterwards. GMAT Sentence Correction prefers to keep these separate, so it would lean towards sentence 2. (Notice, one key is the verb ‘fell asleep’ vs. the verb ‘slept.’ These are related but ultimately different things, which the GMAT likes for you to notice ). The point being, really check the meaning of the sentence and its modifiers . I would like to tell you that the GMAT doesn’t get as subtle as this, but take a stab at SC 723 in the 2017 OG . Continue reading after you’ve answered. Most students narrow down to answers A and E, and grammatically-speaking, both are fine. The distinction is in the verb ‘outnumber’ vs. the modifier ‘outnumbering.’ Since ‘outnumbering’ is a ‘comma, —ing’ modifier, find the subject-verb clause it modifies. Here’s another kangaroo drinking a beer: Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - GMAT Sentence Correction: Modifiers and Meaning by Reed Arnold “[Her] letters were written over [a long period of time].” The question is, then: should the number of letters referenced in the modifier be directly linked to the duration of time over which they were written . And the answer, when you think about it, is ‘no.’ A person can write two letters or two thousand over a long period of time—the duration is not the same thing as the quantity. (Another good one for practice is SC 714. See if you can explain exactly why the GMAT would prefer the use of the verb ‘rob’ or the modifier ‘robbing’). This is a subtle thing, and it’s not immediately intuitive because we’re fairly sloppy about it in real life. Practice finding ‘comma,—ing’ modifiers in writing anywhere. You should try to specify exactly which clause they modify, checking to see the modification actually makes sense. Maybe there are some in this post to get you started.

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