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To Grammar Or Not To Grammar: That Is The Question!

There’s a fair bit of misinformation out there on Internet chats and course websites. For instance, that a knowledge of English grammar isn’t really necessary to do well in Sentence Correction. According to this notion, the GMAT is not testing your knowledge of the English language. It’s testing whether you can distinguish a logical statement from an illogical one. In other words, all you need is to see whether a statement makes sense.


This is a half-truth, and half-truths are much more misleading than untruths, because they can look very attractive. After all, almost nobody likes studying grammar. Almost anything, rather than having to swallow that bitter pill! But what if you have no choice?


So let’s look at it. The Sentence Correction questions in the Verbal section don’t concentrate on grammar. Of course not. If they did, all that would be required would be some tough blank-fill questions of the type you might get in official English exams. But what you have in Sentence Correction is something different: five ways of completing a sentence.


The reason that Sentence Correction questions don’t concentrate on grammar is that they are interested primarily in meaning. For the meaning of a statement to be clear, the statement has got to make sense. So one of those five versions of a sentence must be logical.


The problem is, though, that the sentence is very unlikely to be logical if the grammar is wrong or unclear. Look at this example:


Not only the school prohibited smoking on its premises: it also sent a letter to parents asking parents to explain the dangers of tobacco.


What’s this sentence trying to say? Because what it says is just nonsense. Not only the school prohibited smoking means that the school was not the only one: some other institution also prohibited smoking. This is clearly not what the sentence wants to say. And then it gets worse: the pronoun IT in the clause it also sent has no clear referent. So where did the letter to the parents come from? From the school or from this other mysterious institution? Nobody knows. In other words, here’s a sentence that doesn’t make clear what it’s talking about. Maybe it looks okay – but it isn’t!


On the other hand, if you know the grammar, you can see the problem in the meaning straightaway. A sentence that begins with NOT ONLY normally has to put the verb into the interrogative form and place it before the subject, as in this case:


Not only did the school prohibit ...


Now it’s clear what we’re talking about! The sentence makes sense now because the grammar is right. NOT ONLY is modifying the verb TO PROHIBIT, and not the noun SCHOOL, as it was doing in the incorrect example. So now the pronoun IT is not a problem any more: it refers directly to SCHOOL.


We have a lot more to say about this matter. But first, we’d like to see your opinion – or read about your Sentence Correction learning experience. Send us a note at our XGMAT Facebook page...... and we’ll get back to you!


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