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GMAT Tip: Don’t Fret Over Two Letter Words

Many students get frustrated when evaluating sentence correction problems, with the biggest point of frustration coming from feeling that they need to memorize chart after chart of idioms.

While knowing idioms can certainly be helpful, if you are facing a short timeline, sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Just like quantitative problems, there are frequently multiple ways to evaluate sentence correction problems. Not clear on determining that we arrive “at” an airport and arrive “in” a city, but we don’t tend to arrive “to” places? Don’t completely despair that – while you should have a decent grasp of grammar rules in your evaluation of sentence corrections, not understanding these expressions will not keep you from scoring well on the GMAT.

Take this example:

Turn-of-the-century magician Harry Houdini claimed, for his famous water-torture cell trick, the ability to hold his breath for more than three minutes.

(A) the ability to hold his breath

(B) he has the ability of holding his breath

(C) the ability of him holding his breath

(D) to be able to hold his breath

(E) being able to hold his breath

In evaluating the answer choices, you may ask yourself – “wait, do we have the ability of or the ability to do something? Can’t I have the ability of a superhero?” It turns out, in looking beyond these two letter words, the answer choice is very similar – in fact, making a selection on the basis of “the ability of” versus “the ability to” will likely lead you down a time-wasting path with an incorrect answer.

A better way to evaluate you answer choices is to first focus on something more basic – like sentence construction, in particular, having both a subject and a verb. If you cut unnecessary descriptive phrase like “turn-of-the-century magician” and “for his famous water-torture cell trick” that are not essential to understanding the core meaning of the sentence, you should very easily see that “Harry Houdini claimed the ability to hold his breath” does not make a lick of sense.

The only answer choice that makes logical sense is (D) – “Harry Houdini claimed to be able to hold his breath” making it completely unnecessary for me to know whether we have the ability of or the ability to take an action.

Remember, the GMAT is not looking to assess your ability to memorize hundreds of minor details, but rather, your ability to critical think and leverage the assets you do have. While knowing to use “as many as” not “as many than” can help you go a bit further on the GMAT, you still won’t be effective without a flexible strategy and approach. The GMAT is looking for the most effective sentence, not the most elegantly crafted sentence. Keep that in mind when evaluating your sentence corrections.


The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.

Posted in: Feature Small, GMAT, GMAT - Verbal, GMAT Tips

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