Little Words, Big Score Gains

by on April 22nd, 2010

andJoanna Bersin is a Content Developer @ Knewton, where she helps students home in on their GMAT sentence completion.

Prepositions and conjunctions are little words that can have quite an impact on your GMAT score. It’s important to understand how these words function in a sentence. The same words—like the conjunctions “and” or “but” and the preposition “as”—hold sentences together by creating relationships between ideas. Take the time to “grab” onto conjunctions and prepositions in sentences as an anchoring point. Once you recognize them, you can check to make sure that they’re doing their jobs correctly.

Let’s zoom in on the role of “and” in a sentence.

  • “And” can be used to create a list. When “and” connects items in a list, make sure those items are parallel—that is, that they look the same. Look at the word or phrase after the “and.” This word or phrase must be the same part of speech as another word or phrase earlier in the sentence. The linked words or phrases must create a logical list.

When reading through a sentence, you don’t necessarily know where a list begins. However, the item after an “and” must be part of a list! If you know what the last item on the list is, you can go back and look for the earlier items on the list. This trick is pretty cool. For example:

Winning the race and the enjoyment of free time are important to me.
Winning the race and enjoying free time are important to me.

In the first sentence, the item after and is a simple noun (the enjoyment). This must link to the earlier noun, the race.  However, this list does not make sense. The sentence makes it sound as though the author is winning the two simple nouns, as though she is winningthe race and winningthe enjoyment of free time. It makes no sense to win enjoyment!

The second sentence, however, correctly links two –ing words (gerunds); winning… and enjoying… form a logical list of what’s important to the author.

  • “And” can be used to form a compound sentence. Make sure that, when “and” follows a comma and connects two clauses, the clauses on both sides of the comma plus “and” are independent. For example: “Jocelyn went to the store, and Katrina went to the park.” The sentence consists of two independent clauses (“Jocelyn went to the store” and “Katrina went to the park”) connected by “and” plus a comma.
  • “And” can connect two subjects to form a compound subject. Make sure that this compound subject agrees with a plural verb. Example: “Jocelyn and Katrina like to eat ice cream.”

And to prove just how powerful “and” can be, I just flipped to the last page of The Official Guide Edition 12′s Sentence Correction section. Of the four questions on this page, three can become easier just by grabbing onto “and.”

Take a look at #139 out of 140, for example:

The company announced that its profits declined much less in the second quarter than analysts had expected it to and its business will improve in the second half of the year.

(A) had expected it to and its business will improve
(B) had expected and that its business would improve
(C) expected it would and that it will improve its business
(D) expected them to and its business would improve
(E) expected and that it will have improved its business

In this sentence, honing in on “and” and on what comes immediately after “and” puts what’s important into focus. “And” here is connecting “its business will improve” to something else in the sentence. What part of speech is “its business will improve”? Since “its business will improve” can stand on its own as a sentence,  it’s an independent clause. Well, you know that “and” can only connect two independent clauses if they are separated by a comma plus “and.”

“And” should in fact be connecting two clauses here, but not independent ones. The two clauses describing what “the company announced” are what should be connected. The company announced two things, “that its profits declined…and…” something else. The first clause begins with “that”. To make the two connected ideas clear, the second clause should also begin with “that.”

Notice how choices B, C, and E follow “and” with “that.”

Now what? Well, we know what “and” is linking the second clause to: the first clause about what “the company announced,” an action that took place in the past. Take a look at what comes after “and that”; in C and E, “it will improve its business…” contains a future verb. Future verbs cannot link to a past action, so we can eliminate choices C and E.

After “and that” in B, the helper verb “would” is used. The helper verb “would” correctly describes a future result of a past tense event. The company announced something in the past that had a future result from this point in the past— specifically, “that business would improve” after the time that the announcement was made.

If you’re looking for a place to start on both difficult and easy SC questions, “and” can help. Grab onto “and,” and your score will improve.


  • nice article. Thnaks...

  • very clear and useful ,thanks a lot

  • Hi Joanna,

    Thanks for a great article.

    Can you post some more articles on but, or and prepositions like you did here.

    Also would vs will

    please let me know if I am wrong

    Would - A future event which is not certain
    Will - A future even that is certain

    Since we are not sure if business will actually improve so we use would

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