The Basics of Sentence Correction

by on December 15th, 2012

The best thing about Sentence Correction on the GMAT is that it’s easy to improve quickly by memorizing and reviewing certain grammar fundamentals we know the GMAT loves to test. The more familiar you are with the concept of singular/plural, parallelism, pronouns and their antecedents, etc. the better you’ll do! One of the most fundamental concepts you’ll need to understand about English grammar is what makes a complete sentence.

A sentence is made up of a subject and a verb. It can be as simple as “I walked.” Or we can add a modifier, such as an adjective: I walked quickly. Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT can be thought of as simple sentences to which lots of modifiers have been added. The GMAT likes to confuse test-takers with long prepositional phrases and relative clauses, but all sentences boil down to a simple independent clause.

A sentence fragment occurs when a sentence is missing its subject, its verb, or does not make sense logically. Essentially it is a dependent clause masquerading as an independent clause. Here’s a quick example:

FRAGMENT: She studying very hard.

COMPLETE SENTENCE: She is studying very hard.

We can sometimes fix a fragment by keeping it as it is and joining it to an independent clause: Since she is studying very hard, Lisbeth enrolled in a GMAT course. Let’s look at a sample GMAT Sentence Correction question-stem:

1. Yo-yo Ma, whom according to the classical cellists of the world is perhaps the world’s best, plays in a versatile style which is ever-changing but which also employs aspects of genres as varied as Baroque, American bluegrass, and modern minimalism.

This sentence has several problems. “Whom” is used incorrectly, instead of the subject pronoun “who,” and there is redundancy in the words “versatile” and “ever-changing.” We’ll expect the correct answer choice to fix these issues, but be wary of seemingly correct choices that fix the main errors, but create a sentence fragment, such as this option:

(B) who is regarded by the classical cellists of the world as perhaps the world’s best, who plays in an ever-changing style all his own, which also employs

This choice fixes the initial errors (changing “whom” to “who” and removing “versatile” to avoid redundancy), but now every clause of the sentence is dependent. “Who” in the first two clauses refers back to the subject, “Yo-yo Ma,” while “which” in the third clause modifies “style” in Clause #2. We have plenty of verbs in this sentence, but none describe the action of our subject, “Yo-yo Ma” and are not a predicate verb.

Key takeaway:

The GMAT tries to hide sentence fragments away in long Sentence Corrections. Always check there’s (1) a subject, (2) a predicate verb, and (3) that the meaning of the sentence makes sense. The correct answer will always be the one that fixes the error, without producing a new one. Answer choices that are sentence fragments will never be correct!

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  • You said, "A sentence is made up of a subject and a verb. It can be as simple as “I walked.” Or we can add a modifier, such as an adjective: I walked quickly."

    But isn't Quickly adverb?  

    • You're right - quickly is an adverb. But the author's point here is still very valid - most of those modifiers (adjectives or adverbs) are there to distract you from the core point of the sentence, so learn to cut past the description to more effectively attack sentences!

  • Thank you for the kind reply.

  • Thanks for a wonderful description of basics of grammer. Identifying sentence fragment and clauses is my weak part. Can you suggest any source and practice questions to improve upon this.
    Thanks in advance.

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