Here is a set of free short videos for stepwise preparation of Modifiers on GMAT. For a more detailed treatment of the topic, you may want to opt for our GMAT online course or our GMAT test series of 15 mock tests.
"Phrase Comma Subject and "Subject Comma Phrase"
When it comes to GMAT sentence correction questions, understanding sentence construction is crucial. Analyzing the interaction of different types of words and punctuations is key to determining whether an answer choice is appropriate or not, as the construction of a sentence is what governs its meaning. In this short article, we will cover two sentence constructions that are of great importance on the GMAT, "Phrase + Comma + Subject" and "Subject + Comma + Phrase".
Phrase + Comma + Subject
First, we will take a look at the Phrase + Comma + Subject construction. Whenever a phrase is followed by a comma, the relevant subject that it refers to must come immediately after the comma. To understand this construction a bit better, please refer to the following example.
Example 1 - Running back home, foot of Jack was hurt.
In example 1, there is a comma after the phrase "Running back home". This comma is then followed by the subject "foot of Jack".As explained above, whatever comes after the comma will modify the phrase that comes before the comma. Thus, the phrase “Running back home” refers to “Jack’s foot”. Obviously, this cannot be the correct construction, as it changes the sentence’s meaning to say that Jack's foot was hurt while running rather than the intended meaning that Jack was running home and, in the process, hurt his foot.The correct form of this sentence would be:
Running back home, Jack hurt his foot.
Here, , the comma is followed by "Jack"; thus, "Running back home" refers to "Jack" and the sentence conveys the intended meaning that Jack hurt his foot while running back home.
Subject + Comma + Phrase
Now, we will cover the second construction, Subject + Comma + Phrase.
When a subject is followed by a comma, the phrase that follows refers to the subject, as illustrated by the example below.
Example 2 - Brussels, a historical city, has many churches.
In example 2, the subject is "Brussels" and it is followed by a comma that is then followed by the phrase "a historical city". This sentence is correct, as it follows the appropriate logical structure; "a historical city" modifies "Brussels" to convey that Brussels is a historical city that has many churches and that is the intended meaning of the sentence.
Extra Information Between two Commas
One very important concept that you must keep in mind when taking on GMAT sentence correction questions is the nature of information presented between two commas. On the GMAT, only certain types of information can be presented between two commas, in a sentence. We shall now cover, in detail, exactly what type of information this is.
If a sentence is correct, as per the GMAT’s standards, then removing any information presented between two commas should yield an otherwise complete sentence. For example, in the previous sentence the phrase "as per the GMAT’s standards" is between two commas and removing this information produces the sentence "If a sentence is correct, then removing any information presented between two commas should yield an otherwise complete sentence." This new sentence is still grammatically correct and has a clear meaning of its own. Basically, only “extra” information should be presented between two commas. This means that if the information is removed the core meaning of the sentence should not change Let us further illustrate this concept through a separate example:
Example 1 - Brussels, a historical city, has many churches.
In example 1, the phrase “a historic city”, modifying “Brussels” is presented between two commas. Now let us remove this information from the sentence.The sentence now becomes:
Brussels has many churches.
As the resultant sentence is a complete and grammatically correct sentence, in its own right, we can conclude that the original sentence is correct.
There are two core learnings to take away here.First of all, on GMAT, any information presented between two commas should be extra information that will not alter the basic meaning or grammatical correctness of a sentence if it is removed. The second learning is quite important, and essentially the inverse of the first learning; on the GMAT, any information that is important for preserving the core meaning of a sentence should never be presented between two commas.
This concept forms a very objective and important criterion for sentence correctness that you can utilize to efficiently eliminate incorrect answer choices in GMAT sentence correction questions. If any answer choice has information between two commas, begin by removing that information from the sentence and see if the resulting sentence is grammatically correct and preserves the same core meaning; if it does not, the answer choice can be safely eliminated.
Which, Who, Whose, Where
To take on GMAT sentence correction questions, particularly modifier based ones, it is important to understand the exact pattern in which certain words refer to subjects and objects, within sentences. Here, we will cover how the words which, who, whose, and where should be used on the GMAT.
Usage of Which, Who, whose, and Where
In usage, these terms are actually identical. When preceded by a comma, these terms all refer to the noun just before the comma. To understand this concept fully, please read the following examples:
Example 1 - France would play against Brazil, which is a stronger team, in the finals.
Here, since the word “which” comes directly after a comma, it refers to the noun “Brazil” which comes directly before the same comma.
Now, we will go through a few other examples to understand the use of these terms in different contexts.
Example 2 -Jack would play against John, who is a stronger contender, in the finals.
In Example 2, there are two nouns that the word “who” could refer to, Jack and John. However, it is perfectly clear that "who" refers to the noun John because "John" directly precedes the comma that "which" follows. The noun “Jack” cannot be the referent to the word “who”, as it is too far away. In this context it is important to understand what meaning the sentences is trying to convey. The core meaning of the sentence is that “Jack”, the subject, will play against "John" in the finals; the phrase "who is a stronger contender" modifies "John", as "John" directly precedes it.
Example 3 - Jack would play against John, whose record is 90% wins, in the finals.
In example 3, the word "whose" refers to the noun "John" and conveys the meaning that the record belongs to John. Similar to example 2, in this sentence the noun “Jack” is not the referent of the word “whose”. The core meaning of this sentence is that "Jack", the subject, will play against "John" in the finals. The phrase "whose record is 90% wins" modifies "John", as "John" directly precedes it.
Example 4 - The finals are in DC, where Jack made his debut.
In example 4, the word “where” is used because the noun in question is a location. Thus, there is no confusion as to which noun is being referred to, as “where” can only be used to refer to locations. Nevertheless, even when dealing with a sentence that includes “where”, remember the rule; “where” will always refer to the noun that directly preceeds the comma.
Can "Whose" be Used for Things or Objects
If you have been preparing for the GMAT, you might have come across a certain myth that the word "whose" can only be used to refer to people and not inanimate objects. While tackling GMAT sentence correction questions, you must keep in mind that this is not true. In certain contexts, the word “whose” can be used to refer to objects and things, and we will now examine these contexts to better understand the use of “whose” on the GMAT.
First of all, please understand that if the word “whose” is used as an interrogative pronoun and ultimately refers to a person, it can be followed by a thing. Below, you will find two examples of the word "whose" being used as an interrogative pronoun. Please go through them, closely, to understand this concept better.
Direct example: Whose mother is inquiring?
Indirect example: Whose bike is creating the noise?
In these examples, the word “whose” is used as an interrogative pronoun, meaning that it asks the question, “To who does this belong?” While it may, initially, seem that in the first example the word "whose" refers to a person, and in the second example it refers to an object, the reality is that in both cases "whose" actually refers to a second entity.. In the first example, the word "whose" actually refers to the mother's child and in the second example, the word "whose" refers to the bike's owner, who will be a person, not the bike itself. Thus, we can see that when the word "whose" is used as an interrogative pronoun, it will always refer to a person, even if it is followed by a thing because "whose" will always be used to refer to a person who is related to an object through possession, not the thing itself.
Of course, interrogative pronouns are not the only use of “whose”. The word “whose” can also be used as a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns are those that are used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun, and when “whose” is used in this manner it can be followed by a person or a thing and refer to either one. Here are two examples of “whose” being used as a relative pronoun.
Example 1 - The lady whose child is crying needs hot water.
Example 2 - The bike whose silencer is dysfunctional is creating the noise.
Both example 1 and example 2 are grammatically correct. In example 1, we see how “whose” is used to refer to a person, “the lady”, and in example 2 we can see how “whose” is used to refer to a thing, “the bike”.
"Which" Versus "That"
While preparing for the GMAT, many candidates struggle to comprehend the difference in use between the words “which” and “that”. Confusion between these two terms can be a major hurdle in tackling GMAT sentence correction questions, as many questions employ this highly subtle difference. The difficulty in comprehending the difference is compounded by the fact that these two words are often used interchangeably, in casual conversation. Thus, here we will cover exactly how “which” and “that” are supposed to be used on the GMAT, respectively, in detail.
Let us begin by examining the use of “which”.
When you see the word “which” used on the GMAT, it will most likely be preceded by a comma and will be used to provide additional information on a noun. As has been mentioned elsewhere on this page, whenever extra information is presented in a sentence on the GMAT, it must be between two commas and its removal should not affect the core meaning of the sentence. Put simply, if the information presented through the word “which” is removed, the sentence should still be complete, grammatically correct, and convey its core meaning. Please go through the following example to understand this concept better.
Example 1: France would play against Brazil, which is a stronger team, in the finals.
In example 1, we can clearly see that the core meaning of the sentence is that France will play Brazil in the finals, and the phrase "which is the stronger team" is extra information. We can also see that removing this information does not affect the core meaning of the sentence. Therefore, example 1 is correct sentence.
The two key takeaways that you must understand from this explanation are that, on the GMAT, "which" will typically follow a comma and the phrase containing the word "which" will convey extra information and it should be able to be removed, without affecting the sentence's core meaning. Keep these takeaways in mind, as they are the primary points of difference between how “which” and “that” are used on the GMAT.
In contrast to “which”, the word “that” does not typically follow a comma and is used to give information that is critical for the correct meaning of the sentence. Please read the following example and explanation for further clarity.
Example 2: The team, which scores more goals, will be the winner.
If we remove the phrase "which scored the most goals", the sentence becomes "The team will be the winner.' Thus, the core meaning of the sentence will be lost and we "that" should be used here, rather than "which". The correct sentence is:
The team that scores more goals will be the winner.
A Rare Case when "That" is Preceded by "Comma"
In the above video, we noted that the word “that” is almost never preceded by a comma, on the GMAT. However, there is one set of circumstances wherein it is. Here, we will cover exactly what that circumstance is, in detail, to enable you to navigate sentence correction questions that hinge on this use of “that”.
When the word “that” is preceded by a comma, it is used to link clauses. However, the related phrase does not modify the sentence in the same way that it would if a word such as "which" or "who" were used. Unlike in those cases, when “that” is preceded by a comma, it never refers to the noun immediately before the comma; it refers to the noun or noun phrase that precedes the previous comma. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept, better.
Example 1 - While flying at night, bats use echolocation, a special sonar system used by toothed whales as well as dolphins, that involves the use of sound waves and echoes for determining where objects are in space.
In this example, multiple commas are used in the sentence before the word “that”, which follows a comma that in turn follows the noun "dolphins". As we have explained above, "that" will not refer to the noun that is immediately before the comma, "dolphins", it will refer to the noun that follows the previous comma, "echolocation". To understand this concept, fully, you must use the meaning of the sentence as a guide. First, understand that the core meaning of the sentence is that bats use echolocation that involves the use of sound waves and echoes for determining where objects are in space while flying at night. Additionally, the sentence provides extra information that modifies the noun "echolocation", to explain that it is a special sonar system used by toothed whales as well as dolphins. Clearly, “that” cannot refer to “dolphins” because if it did so, the sentence’s meaning would be that dolphins involve the use of sound waves and echoes for determining where objects are in space, which is completely nonsensical and incorrect. Thus, we see that the sentence can only be correct if the word "that" refers to "echolocation".