Comparing Things in GMATPrep Sentence Correction


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


gmat beeI 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.

  1. AdamiStudy August 12, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Also a good post for reading comprehension on Manhattan GMAT

  2. April 17, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Great article. I never thought about the key benefits of disagreeing! Youre right though, that people rarely disagree in a very respectful way. If youre not respectful, chances are that your comment is not approved or deleted.

  3. April 14, 2013 at 11:25 am

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  4. Surbhi February 21, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Got it in 25 secs! What’s the level of difficulty like?

  5. anand February 15, 2013 at 8:27 am


  6. Terrace December 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Hi, Stacey!
    I read that chapter in FoV yesterday.
    It does help me have a better understanding of preposition!
    Thanks a lot ;)!!

  7. Stacey Koprince December 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    The kangaroo with the baby in her pouch looks happy.

    “with the baby” is a prepositional phrase modifying hte noun kangaroo
    “in her pouch” is a prepositional phrase modifying the word “baby,” which itself is the noun in the prepositional phrase “with the baby”

    Each one is its own prepositional phrase – so there are two prepositional phrases in that sentence.

    Actually, I just recommended chapter 4 of our Foundations of Verbal book to you in another post (on conjunctions) and that same chapter talks about prepositions, too! So… read chapter 4. 🙂

  8. Terrace December 5, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Instructive!! Thank Stacey><!!

  9. Terrace December 5, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Thank Stacey:)!

    Some noun modifiers do not contain a tensed verb, such as present participle and another prepositonal phrase.
    So I’m wondering whether the noun modifier can follow after the noun in the prepositional phrase.
    And if it can, is this whole phrase still considered a prepositional phrase?

    [ “prepositional + noun + noun modifier(present participle/clasue, etc.)” = PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE?]

    Thanks a lot^^!!

  10. Stacey Koprince December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am

    The formal name is adverbial modifier, but lots of people shorten that to verb modifier when it’s modifying a verb.

    There are two broad categories:
    noun modifiers (modify only nouns)
    adverbial modifiers (modify anything other than only nouns) – could be verbs, adjectives, adverbs, entire clauses (which include nouns), but not just a noun by itself

    Given that there are only 2 broad categories, you’re probably going to guess my answer to your question re: how many ways in which adverbial modifiers can show up. So many that I can’t type them up. 🙂 But there are certain types that get tested commonly on the GMAT and that’s why you here us talking about those specific types.

    Next, “, with the result that” (when used correctly) is indeed an adverbial modifier and it should modify the clause to which it’s attached. When we talk about modifying a clause, we’re typically talking about both the subject AND the verb together – we’re really modifying the *action* described in the clause.

    The stinger is barbed and the stinger stays where it is inserted. The fact that these things are true results in another thing happening. Note that we’re not modifying ONLY the noun – it’s not the fact that the stinger exists. It’s the fact that the stinger has these two characteristics.

  11. Stacey Koprince December 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

    You mean “at the same time” as in “I am doing both of these things right now?”

    No. The word “and” just means that both these things are true or exist or whatever, but it doesn’t imply anything about their relationship to one another in terms of when they happened or are happening. I ate dinner and I studied. Unless I say something like “Last night, I ate dinner and I studied,” then you know nothing about when those two things happened. Nor do you know which I did first, unless I say something like “I ate dinner and then I studied.”

    In your “Amy” sentence, there is no difference between the two sentences. You can repeat the articles “a,” but you don’t have to – the first “a” can apply to both worker and writer. Because this is true (you don’t have to repeat the “a”), most people will prefer not to do so – and the GMAT follows that same preference.

  12. Stacey Koprince December 2, 2012 at 10:38 am


  13. Terrace November 30, 2012 at 5:36 am

    Hi, Stacey! Sorry to trouble you again><!
    As for the adverbial modifier, I am wondering how many forms of adverbial modifiers there are, besides “comma + prepositional phrase” and “comma + -ing word”. Actually, I am a little confused about the difference between the verb modifiers and adverbial modifiers. As we know, some prepositional phrases can act as verb modifiers or adverbial modifiers.

    And I used to hold the idea that adverbial modifier is some kind of verb modifier, which is used specifically to modify the verb in the main clause.
    For example, I guess that “with the result that the act of stinging causes” is a kind of absolute phrase——for me, absolute phrase has the same functions as the verb modifiers——that can be used to modify those two actions in the main clause——bar and stay. Meanwhile, this phrase does not help to modify the subject or the object in the clause.
    Am I right?

    Thanks a lot^^!

  14. Terrace November 30, 2012 at 3:02 am

    Hi, Stacey!
    Can I use AND to express the idea that I am doing those things at the same time? Like by inserting an ALSO?
    *I like pizza and also study biology.
    Does it mean that “I like pizza” and “I study biology” at the same time?
    *He wrote the first half, and Bob wrote the second half.
    Does it mean that he and Bob wrote in the same time frame?

    Besides, I am a little confused about the usage of AND. For example,
    Amy, a worker and writer, likes swimming.
    Amy, a worker and a writer, likes swimming.
    Is there any difference between the two sentences above?

    Thank Stacey:)!!

  15. Stacey Koprince November 8, 2012 at 1:08 am

    It is. But it’s also referring to the whole action – Lake Baikal holds. 🙂 What’s the significance of “with more than 300 rivers draining into it?” The fact that Lake Baikal holds (20% of the world’s fresh water).

    What if I said:
    Lake Baikal, with more than 300 rivers draining into it, is where I vacationed last summer.

    Now, technically, that’s correct… but the meaning is a little funny. You might think, “Okay… but why did you tell me ‘with more than 300 rivers…?’ Is that WHY you vacationed there?”
    If you really just wanted to add that as an extra bit of descriptive info about Lake Baikal, you’d say “Lake Baikal, which has more than 300 rivers draining into it, is where I vacationed last summer.” See the difference?

    Also, just a side note: when I say that something is a *general* rule, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions – in fact, there’s pretty much an exception for everything when it comes to grammar. “comma + preposition” does *generally* act as an adverbial modifier – but there are still occasional exceptions. Prepositions in particular often have lots of exceptions. Isn’t grammar fun? 🙁

  16. Brand November 8, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Dear Stacey,
    I don’t mean to be annoying, but your explanation on choice E of another SC question you posted (
    namely, quote: “E: “Lake Baikal, with more than 300 rivers draining into it…” Is the modifier referring to the preceding noun, Lake Baikal? Yes. ”
    So does it contradict with you claim that “comma + prepositional phrase” as an adverbial modifier could modifies any thing but noun?

  17. Stacey Koprince November 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    An adverbial modifier doesn’t actually mean it modifies a verb – that’s one possibility but not the only one. This is the easiest way to think about it: a noun modifier modifiers ONLY a noun. An adverbial modifier modifies *anything else* (including, possibly, a clause, which consists of a noun and a verb – but it doesn’t modify ONLY a noun by itself).

    As a general rule, “comma + prepositional phrase”** and “comma + -ing word” are adverbial modifiers. Most commonly, these will end up modifying the main *action* of the sentence, which is best conveyed by the main subject and verb (and possibly the object as well).

    ** Note: what we have in the above sentence is not a prepositional *phrase*; a phrase doesn’t contain a tensed verb. In answer E (the correct answer), the “with” part of the bee sentence is still a modifier, but it’s a clause (clause = contains a verb) that starts with a preposition. But it’s still a modifier that modifies the main clause (action, or subj+verb).

    p.s. If you want more on the comma + -ing, etc, look in the modifiers chapter of our SC guide!

  18. Brand November 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Dear Stacey,
    I have a question regarding your explanation on choice E:

    Quote: “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.”

    Since it is an adverbial modifier, would it be more appropriate for it to modify the verb “stay” rather then the whole main clause?
    Could you explain a little bit on the general rule for “comma + preposition”modifiers, what do they usually modify?

  19. Roberto November 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Getting into the mind of an efficient problem solver, priceless.

  20. Stacey Koprince October 26, 2012 at 10:33 am

    It always takes longer to explain than to do. 🙂

    Seriously, though, we need to average 1m15s to 1m20s, which means you can *sometimes* go longer because on others you’ll sometimes be faster (but, as a general rule, you don’t want to go more than about 30 seconds above the average on any problem – so, for SC, around 1m45s to 1m50s on a few problems).

  21. Abhishek October 26, 2012 at 1:07 am

    And you expected us to do it in 1min 15 secs…..ha ha ha ha 🙂

    Nice explanation though !!

  22. Nagarajan Narayanan October 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    awesome explanation Stacey.