Is "Being" Always Wrong?

by , Jul 25, 2011

Most students (and many teachers) tell me some variation on the theme that, in Sentence Correction, being is always wrong on the GMAT. Its true that the word being is very often wrong; if I have to guess, Im certainly not going to pick something with being in it. At the same time, being is a real word, and its possible to use it in a sentence correctly. Whos seen the film Being John Malkovich?

Check out this GMATPrep Sentence Correction question; it includes the word "being," so we can have a nice post-problem discussion about the issue. Set your timer for 1 minute and 15 seconds and go!

Simply because they are genetically engineered does not make it any more likely for plants to become an invasive or persistent weed, according to a decade-long study published in the journal Nature.

(A) because they are genetically engineered does not make it any more likely for plants to

(B) because it is genetically engineered does not make a plant any more likely to

(C) being genetically engineered does not make it any more likely that plants will

(D) being genetically engineered does not make a plant any more likely to

(E) being genetically engineered does not make a plant any more likely that it will become

So, did you pick an answer that included the word being, or one without?

When we read the original sentence, we dont think about being at all because that word only shows up in the answers. The first thing I noticed about the original was that it sounds positively awkward. I also dont like starting with the subject pronoun they pretty early on but not introducing the noun plants until much later in the sentence.

Still, I didnt cross off A for those reasons, because I know that the test writers love to give awkward-sounding original sentences when the correct answer is actually A, especially on harder questions. (If they dont make it sound bad somehow, then everyone will just pick it and move on but that cant happen on a hard question or it cant be classified as a hard question!)

There is a bigger issue going on in A, however. What is the subject? Weve got a really weird construction here (which is why it sounds so awkward!).

Many students would tell me they is the subject and are is the verb. Thats not correct, unfortunately. The subject is actually because they are genetically engineered and the verb is does not make. In shorter terms, because <something is true> is what does not make a plant more likely to blah blah blah.

Thats strange, but is it actually wrong? Yes, it is. The word because is a conjunction. Conjunctions cannot function as subjects of sentences. Eliminate A. And, hey, B repeats the same error! Eliminate B, too.

The next thing I noticed was that C, D and E all start with the word being! Really? Huh. So I guess being is going to be part of the right answer! And thats the only way that I choose an answer that contains being because Ive got good reasons to eliminate all of the answers that dont contain being. If I had noticed the being earlier, I would have ignored it and gone to look at everything else, and I still would have gotten to the point where the non-being answers were wrong for some reason and so Im left with something that contains being.

Next, all three remaining answers have being genetically engineered as the subject and does not make as the verb. Is that okay? Yes, it is. The word being is functioning as a gerund; a gerund is a specific form of a verb that is actually functioning as a noun in the sentence. -ing words can function as gerunds (or verbs, or adjectives, or adverbs!).

So where do we go from here? The first half of each of the remaining choices is the same, so now we need to compare the seconds halves of C, D, and E. Each one contains any more likely in various forms, so we need to figure out how that idiom is used properly.

Notice the first split between C and D (and E is like D): does not make IT any more likely vs. does not make A PLANT any more likely. Logically, what is the thing that is not any more likely to do something? The plant. So thats what we want right there. Eliminate C.

Whats the difference between D and E? D says any more likely to and E says any more likely that it will become. There are several ways that more likely or any more likely can be used in a sentence, but when the meaning is more likely <to do something> then that is the exact structure we want: more likely to. Answer choice D gives us that; eliminate E.

The correct answer is D.

Key Takeaways for Being Sentences on SC:

(1) The word being is often wrong but not always. If you see being in some of the answers, ignore it. Deal with everything else that you can first. If that means that you only have answers containing being left, thats fine choose something that contains being.

(2) If you have to guess, then avoid answers with being but only if you have to guess. Dont start by eliminating everything that contains being.

(3) (Not about being, just a nitpicky little rule) Conjunctions cannot be subjects of sentences. If a sentence tries to use a conjunction as a subject, eliminate that choice.

* GMATPrep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.