I’ve got a fascinating little GMATPrep problem for you today. Try it out (1 minute 15 seconds) and then we’ll talk about it!
* As the honeybee’s stinger is heavily barbed, staying where it is inserted, this results in the act of stinging causing the bee to sustain a fatal injury.
(A) As the honeybee’s stinger is heavily barbed, staying where it is inserted, this results in the act of stinging causing
(B) As the heavily barbed stinger of the honeybee stays where it is inserted, with the result that the act of stinging causes
(C) The honeybee’s stinger, heavily barbed and staying where it is inserted, results in the fact that the act of stinging causes
(D) The heavily barbed stinger of the honeybee stays where it is inserted, and results in the act of stinging causing
(E) The honeybee’s stinger is heavily barbed and stays where it is inserted, with the result that the act of stinging causes
I chose this problem because it addresses multiple tricky issues that are perhaps easy to hear “ if you have built a good GMAT ear “ but are difficult to explain or articulate. Anything that’s difficult to explain or articulate to yourself is harder to remember. It’s also easier for us to be fooled by our ears on such sentences.
Okay, let’s talk about the problem. My first reaction to the original sentence was: nope, that’s definitely wrong. Now, when the clock is actually ticking and I’m that confident, I don’t bother to try to explain to myself why, exactly, this one is wrong. I just cross off A and look for others that I can cross off for the same reasons I crossed off A.
Here, though, I hit a snag. When I went to the cross off anything else with the same mistake step there wasn’t a single word or location in the sentence on which I could concentrate.
So then I did have to consciously ask myself, Okay, which part of the original sentence is definitely wrong? It’s the this results in the act of stinging part. Why? Most people will just say, Because it sounds terrible. I agree, it does sound bad. But if you can articulate, very briefly, why it sounds bad, now you know what kind of thing to look for in answers B, C, D, and E.
What results in the act of blah blah blah? The fact that the stinger stays where it is inserted. The word this, though, is a type of pronoun “ in general, it should be referring to a noun.
Note: the word this can also refer to an entire idea, including a separate independent clause in the same sentence or a separate sentence. The power in my house went out. This irritates me. The power in my house went out; this irritates me. I’m really saying that this situation irritates me.
That’s not the setup we have in our problem, though “ we don’t have another, separate sentence or independent clause to which the word this is referring. Before the word this, the sentence consists only of modifiers.
So the part about this results in blah blah blah “ that’s no good. I need to find an answer that makes a better connection between the circumstance (the stinger stays where it’s inserted) and the consequence (stinging causes the bee to die). In figuring this out, I’ve also noticed that the original sentence has the form: modifier, modifier, main clause.
As I scan the answers, I realize that A and B start out the same way (with the As modifier) while C, D, and E change things around. I’m going to start by looking at answer B.
(B) After the comma, we’ve now got with the result that This is no longer an independent clause, but neither is that As opening part, so we no longer have a complete sentence anywhere! Cross off B.
Okay, so A and B are out. What about C, D, and E? Now that I’ve noticed that B isn’t a complete sentence, I’m wondering whether any of the others make this same mistake. So I glance through C, D, and E looking for independent subject-verb pairs. In each case, I do find them, so I can’t eliminate any of the three for that reason. (C: the stinger results; D: The stinger stays; E: The stinger is.) I do notice something interesting when looking at those subject-verb pairs, though.
(C) This answer says that the stinger results in the fact that (stinging causes the bee to die). But that’s not quite right “ the existence of the stinger doesn’t result in the act of stinging (causing something). Rather, the fact that the stinger stays where it was inserted ultimately leads to the bee’s death. I’ve just found a meaning error! I can eliminate C and I can also check to see whether D and E make this same error.
(D) Here, we have the stinger stays where it is inserted, and results in the (bee’s death). Excellent! Answer D makes the same meaning error, though this one is a bit more subtle. When you have one subject with two verbs, connected only by the word and, then there is no requirement that the two actions described have anything to do with each other. I like pizza and study biology. I bought some groceries and talked to someone on my phone. Am I doing those things at the same time? Maybe, maybe not. Does one depend on the other? Who knows? If I say, instead, that I bought some groceries while talking to someone on the phone, now I’ve connected the two actions. The word and, though, does not give us any specific connection.
So the problem with D is that it presents two events that may be unrelated; if we match the subject with the second verb, it once again simply says that the stinger results in the (bee’s death). As we already discussed with C, the problem is not the stinger’s existence. The problem is with how the stinger functions.
(E) Let’s check E to make sure that it’s really correct. The stinger is barbed and stays where it is inserted, with the result that Ah, very interesting. The stinger is barbed “ that’s true. The stinger stays where it is inserted “ that’s true, too. The structure comma + preposition is an adverbial modifier, meaning that it modifies the entire main clause to which it is attached. So with the result that the act of stinging causes the bee (to die) modifies the main clause: the stinger is barbed and stays where it is inserted. Yep, that is exactly what happens. The stinger stays where it is inserted and this results in the bee’s death.* It all works!
The correct answer is E.
*Notice what I did in the starred sentence. I did use the word this correctly, unlike in our original sentence. Remember when I said earlier that the word this can be used to refer to another independent clause or a completely different sentence? My starred sentence consists of two equal parts, both independent. The this in the second independent clause refers to the idea presented in the first independent clause.
Key Takeaways for Sounds Bad But I’m Not Sure Why
(1) This is going to happen a lot. If you’re 100% convinced that it’s definitely wrong, then cross it off. If you’re thinking is more along the lines of, hmm, I would never write it this way but I’m not really sure what’s wrong with it, then leave it in for now.
(2) If you’re thinking this about the original sentence, do ask yourself one more thing: which part, specifically, seems definitely wrong? Even if I can’t articulate exactly why that part is wrong, I’ll at least have an idea of the type of thing to look for in other answer choices. For example, on the above problem, once I realized that the this results in part didn’t really properly refer to anything, I knew there was something going on with modifiers “ so I was able to test other answers for that same general concept.
(3) Always check any remaining answers for errors you’ve already found “ but also think about the meaning of whatever you’re checking, even if the original meaning was fine. Don’t just look for the exact same word or words found in the original error. You might find a different error, as we did when we realized that B was not a complete sentence and then examined C, D, and E for the same error. Answers C, D, and E were all complete sentences, but the act of checking the subject-verb pairs led me to the realization that there was a meaning problem, because I was actually thinking about what the words meant, not just whether the subject-verb pairs existed.
* GMATPrep questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.