A GMAT Question With No Verb?

2015-12-15 in GMAT Prep

Gorilla pondering the existence of nominal sentences

“But they said every sentence had to have a verb.”

Do all GMAT sentence correction questions have a verb? Read on.

But first, a sample GMAT sentence correction question to get you warmed up:

Consumers generally prefer computers that are light in weight; for example, if they see that a laptop is lighter, they will pay that much more for it.

(A) if they see that a laptop is lighter, they will pay that much more for it
(B) weighing less, it is preferable to the consumer in terms of cost
(C) the less a laptop weighs, the more the consumer is willing to pay for it
(D) the lighter the laptop, it will be that much more that the consumer is willing to pay for it
(E) when any given laptop is light, the more expensive it is to the consumer


The grammar

One of the most basic rules of grammar that we should remember when we are taking a standardized grammar test (such as the GMAT) is that every sentence must contain a finite verb (basically a verb that goes with a subject)–any sentence that is missing a verb with its subject is (usually) automatically quickly disqualified as a possible correct answer choice. However, there is one clear exception to this rule that shows up from time to time and doesn’t seem to get much attention in the prep books.

This exception is the particular usage of the comparative in English. Here is a simple example:

The fresher the food, the better.

Notice anything interesting about that sentence? You should–it doesn’t contain a finite verb. Or any verb for that matter. Grammarians will explain that the verb is implied–while we’re allowed (in English) to say the bigger, the better, this construction actually means the bigger [something is], the better [it is], and native speakers understand this and basically fill in the missing information. (More info: This type of sentence is called a nominal sentence.)

It is interesting to note that that this construction is permitted on the GMAT, as it could be considered less formal than its counterpart with a finite verb. (I also saw this construction on the grammar section paper-based TOEFL when it was in wide use.)

How the grammar applies to GMAT Sentence Correction

So when I purchased and downloaded the 2016 Kindle version of the Official Guide for GMAT Review, I immediately noticed that the very first Sentence Correction question features this grammatical construction (though interestingly the lack of the finite verb is not mentioned in the official explanation). I’d been wanting to write about this particular grammar point for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity to do so.

(Look back above at the sample question at the top of the page for reference.)

Good test-takers know that semicolons are used to join main (independent) clauses, so one of the first things you should look for is a complete clause before and after the semicolon. In other words, on either side of the semicolon there should be a full clause with a subject and a verb (something like S V; S V). However, in this case, the correct answer does not have a finite verb after the semicolon. Which can be confusing. But, as mentioned above, this construction is correct and since we see it in the GMAT OG (Official Guide), we can see that it’s an accepted construction on the GMAT as well.

My purpose here is not really to explain the other answer choices (though you’re free to ask any questions you like in the comments below) but to explain more about this construction, and why it’s correct.

More on the grammar

As mentioned above, this pattern:


can be considered correct on the GMAT (and perhaps other standardized grammar tests as well). We use this construction quite a lot in English, and sometimes with it we use verbs, but other times we do not. And when we don’t use verbs, the listener clearly understands the intended meaning.

Examples will shed light on this point quite a bit.

Examples of the + COMPARATIVE, the + COMPARATIVE with no verb

(These were all generated by one of my favorite online corpora, the Corpus of Contemporary American English.)

  • The stronger the drug, the greater the euphoria.
  • The smaller the tumor, the better the prognosis.
  • The smaller the population, the greater the effect.
  • The smaller the plane, the greater the selection.
  • The smaller the plane, the greater the damage.
  • The smaller the package, the sweeter the gift.
  • The smaller the number, the higher the power.
  • The smaller the company, the better the odds.
  • The shorter the wires, the purer the signal.
  • The older the subjects, the higher the grade.
  • The older the reader, the higher the decrease.
  • The narrower the switches, the broader the bandwidth.
  • The lower the index, the better the golfer.
  • The lower the handicap, the higher the IQ.
  • The larger the fish, the higher the mercury.
  • The larger the enrollment, the greater the degree.
  • The higher the score, the greater the risk.
  • The higher the pressure, the greater the stress.
  • The higher the ploidy [the number of sets of chromosomes in a cell], the greater the number.
  • The higher the number, the lower the dispersion.
  • The higher the gear, the better the workout.
  • The harder the task, the sweeter the victory.
  • The greater the risk, the higher the price.
  • The greater the pressure, the greater the chance.
  • The greater the damage, the greater the likelihood.
  • The faster the transport, the lower the noise.
  • The earlier the intervention, the greater the effect.
  • The blacker the miner, the finer the jewel.
  • The better the price, the better the grade.
  • The better the artist the better the teacher.

Notice that each of these sentences could be rewritten with verbs in them (most likely some form of be):

  • The stronger the drug is, the greater the euphoria is.
  • The smaller the tumor is, the better the prognosis is.
  • The smaller the population is, the greater the effect is.
  • The smaller the plane is, the greater the selection is.
  • The smaller the plane is, the greater the damage is.

One final note–you should know that this particular construction also permits subject-verb inversion, so the previous sentences could also be written with the verbs before the subjects (though I must admit that to my American ears, these short sentences sound stilted or unnatural):

  • The stronger is the drug, the is greater the euphoria.
  • The smaller is the tumor, the better is the prognosis.
  • The smaller is the population, the greater is the effect.
  • The smaller is the plane, the greater is the selection.
  • The smaller is the plane, the greater is the damage.

And that’s it.


Urch Forums downtime

2014-12-08 in Blog

We had some trouble with the server we were on before, and unfortunately had to move to a new server. We’ve been through this procedure a few times in recent years, but this time it’s taking longer than it has ever taken before.

With luck, things will be working in a few hours. Sorry for any inconvenience, folks!

How to improve your vocabulary

2011-02-22 in English, Grammar, Vocabulary

Page from the vocabulary journal I used in college.

I’ve been a teacher now for just about two decades, and one of the most commonly-asked questions is How can I learn more vocabulary words? I hear various comments over and over: I can’t remember the words I learn, I don’t know a lot of the hard vocabulary words that I see in my reading, I don’t know most of “the SAT vocabulary words”, and on and on and on. So, how to build your vocab? I’ll have to be honest–it’s not easy, nor is it quick. But it’s entirely doable. And for those of you in a hurry, here’s the simple solution: Read a lot. Use a dictionary. Look up words. Be inquisitive. Think about what you’re doing. Take notes. Write lots of things down. Understand that knowledge is acquired in a myriad of ways, and as a learner, you should try to acquire new knowledge using a good number of different methods. There is a place for memorization, of course, but generally, it’s best to learn in context, while you’re doing something, reading something, or learning something. It’s important to hear things, to see things written, to see things done, to say things, to struggle to write. It’s all important, and it all contributes to your learning.

And now the long answer. When I was studying English literature in college, I found that I was almost daily presented with new vocabulary words that I had never seen before (or at least couldn’t remember seeing before, but more on that later), much less knew the definition of. I’m not embarrassed to say that in college, I didn’t know the words balustrade (a type of handrail), gainsay (to dispute), dun (to ask for payment, a word that has become one of my favorites), or dissemble (to deceive). I didn’t know the words, and I was tired of seeing words I didn’t know; it’s a very disempowering feeling not to be able to understanding something that you read, but it’s a feeling that many of us don’t need to become accustomed to. So I set a goal for myself–to learn every word that I possibly could. I decided that I’d do whatever was necessary to improve my vocabulary, at least within my limitations. (Meaning I wasn’t going to cram vocab words all day and all night; I was looking for natural, gradual improvement.)

A quick note: In this article, I discuss one way to learn vocabulary, but not necessarily the only way. The only time I will mention flashcards or mnemonics, for example, is in this very sentence.

1. Buy a good (English) dictionary

Your dictionary will be your primary tool, so choose this carefully. Don’t worry about price too much, but choose a dictionary that you like. There is actually a lot more to choosing a dictionary than a lot of people realize, so I wrote up a review of various English dictionaries, which you will want to read if you’re serious about getting a great English dictionary. (Yes, I realize that I probably get more excited about dictionaries than do most people). Read the rest of this entry →

What does “pitfall” mean? (+ a short quiz!)

2011-01-12 in Vocab

Watch out for pitfalls!


What does “pitfall” mean?

Part of Speech: noun

Pronunciations: IPA: /’pɪt.fal/ Glossary-style: [PIT-fahl]

Definition: a danger, difficulty, or problem that can arise unexpectedly (Ex: the pitfalls of applying for a job). a covered hole in the ground used as a trap.

Example: One of the pitfalls of excelling in a particular subject is becoming labeled an expert in that subject, often causing others to overlook your other qualities and talents.

Practice vocab question for “pitfall”

1. Of the following, which describes a possible pitfall of applying to college?
(A) Many of your friends, who have excellent GPAs and SAT scores, are applying to the same colleges and universities that you are.
(B) You need to fill out a common application as well as write several supplementary essays.
(C) When you submit your application, you submit your rough draft instead of the final version of your personal statement.
(D) When your acceptance letters arrive, you discover that you are offered a four-year, full scholarship at your second choice, before you hear the result from your first-choice.
(E) You have important insights into your character while writing your admissions essays.

2. pitfall most nearly means
(A) comprehension or understanding
(B) area of land devoid of vegetation, especially in a jungle
(C) sudden realization
(D) unexpected difficulty
(E) prevention


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