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GMAT Tips: Problem Words and Phrases in GMAT Sentence Correction

Today’s GMAT Tip comes to us from Kaplan. In this article, Kaplan guest author Kurt Keefner discusses problem words and phrases that often arise in the Sentence Correction section of the GMAT:

Many GMAT preppers struggle with Sentence Correction.  Probably most reading this post have some trouble with it.  But why should that be?  Presumably everyone reading this speaks English. 

That’s the key to the puzzle right there.  We all speak English, but the GMAT doesn’t test spoken English, it tests written English, otherwise know as Standard English.  Unless you are trained as a writer or normally read university-level texts, your exposure to Standard English may be fragmentary and/or faded. 

One remedy for this situation is to read well-written books and periodicals such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.  Most GMAT prep materials will also provide a review of many of the commonly tested usages.  Just to get you started, however, let’s look at six problem words and phrases that come up within GMAT Sentence Correction questions.

Different from.  This is a prepositional idiom that many people get wrong.  Correct usage is to say that “red is different from blue”.  “Different than” is incorrect (although “other than” is correct).  Those of you who speak some variety of British English may say “different to.”  That is acceptable when addressing the Queen, but not on the GMAT.

However.  Students regularly think that “however” is a conjunction, like “although.”  Actually, “however” is an adverb, like “whenever” and “whoever” and means “to whatever degree” or “in whatever manner.”  It does not always imply a contrast.  For example, “However you got to work, I am glad to see you” does not mean “Despite the fact that you got to work, I am glad to see you.”  The GMAT will try to trick you into substituting “although” or “even though” for it.  Don’t fall for the trap!

Not only . . . but also.  There are two traps associated with this correlative conjunction.  The first is not realizing that whenever there is a “not only” there must be a “but also.”  It is not enough to say just “but” or nothing at all.  Only the full construction is good enough for the GMAT.  The second trap lies in taking the two things being correlated as equal, as if they were joined by “and.”  In reality the second item should always represent a farther step than the first, for example: “Your promotion is not only good for you but good also for your co-workers.”  Notice that the words “but” and “also” can be correctly separated.

Between A and B.  When speaking of options people frequently say “I can choose A or B.”  That is correct.  But if you say “between,” you must say “and,” not “or,” as in “I can choose between A and B.”  The reason for this is simple:  if you are standing on your driveway with your house on one side and your car on the other, you would say that you are between your house and your car.  You would never say “or” when you use “between” literally.  You should not say “or” when you use it metaphorically, either.

Two problems with Like.  The word “like” is overused.  It means “similar to.”  It does not mean “for example.”  For that you might wish to say “such as.”  Example:  “I listen to a lot of baroque music, such as concertos by Bach.”  Also “like” and “just like” do not mean the same thing.  “Like” refers to a similarity.  “Just like” means “identical in the relevant respect.”  For example,  “Like my friend Harriet, I studied hard for the GMAT” doesn’t mean you studied the very same number of hours.  But “Just like my friend Harriet, I got into Wharton and Kellogg,” means you got into exactly the same two schools.

GMAT sentence correction is all about details, but most mistakes come from just a few major categories of grammar so if you can master these, you should do well.

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Posted in: GMAT - Verbal, GMAT Tips

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