Mastering Common GMAT Sentence Structure

By Scott Shrum, MBA Game Plan

The GMAT is a challenging test that requires some high-level reasoning abilities. But it also has a dirty little secret: some questions are actually relatively easy. And when those easy questions show up, you need to be prepared to capitalize quickly and efficiently to boost your score and save time for more challenging material. One such question type is not only easy to answer, but also easy to recognize.

With GMAT Sentence Correction, you should recognize that certain sentence structures require strict parallel structure. One such case involves structures that set up a relationship between two parts of a sentence, using the structures:

  • Not only … but also
  • Just as … so
  • Either … or
  • Neither … nor
  • Not … but
  • Both … and

When these structures appear, you will almost always be able to eliminate multiple answer choices because they will botch the necessary parallelism between the two portions on either side of the phrase. Consider these two statements:

  • Parallel structure questions can be not only easy to solve but also easy to recognize.
  • Parallel structure questions can be not only easy to solve but can also be easy to recognize.

What’s the difference?  The second example is incorrect as it is not parallel. Parallel structure in these questions requires that:

  1. Whatever comes immediately before the first “dividing” structure (in this case “not only”) applies to both of the two portions, one after “not only” and the other after “but also”
  2. Whatever comes immediately after the and/or/but second part of the structure must be directly parallel to what comes immediately after the first part of the structure.

This is a long way of saying that, in the second example above, the “but can also be easy …” is wrong because:

  1. “can be” already applies to the second portion because it came before the “dividing” structure, “not only”
  2. Relatedly, “can be” isn’t parallel to “easy” – because the first portion begins with an adjective, the second should, too.

So how can you use this strategically?  Be on the lookout for these structures and know the knee-jerk rules for testing them.

“We hope that you found this article to be both useful and to be clear” is wrong – “to be” sits before “both,” so it already applies to both portions of the construction.

“We hope that you’ll neither forget these rules nor struggle to employ them” is correct, as “forget” (after the dividing term “neither”) and “struggle” (after the structural term “nor”) are parallel verbs.

Master these structures and the rules for attacking them on Sentence Correction questions and you’ll be both more successful and more efficient.  And that, my friends, is a correct statement!

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