Below are two excerpts from popular news sources. Accompanying each excerpt is a slightly modified version of the sentence that contains one or more grammatical flaws. See if you know which excerpt is from an actual news source, and which one is the result of my assiduous fudging!
For our first specimen, the correct version is from a New Yorker article:
A) Leland Stanford was a Republican governor and senator in the late nineteenth century, who made a fortune from the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, which he had helped to found.
B) Leland Stanford, a Republican governor and senator in the late nineteenth century, made a fortune from the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads that he had helped to find.
Though the first sentence is a tad longer, it definitely doesn’t contain unnecessary words. The error is between the use of that/which. ‘Which’ is used to set off a nonessential clause.
One way to think of it: there is no ambiguity if we remove the relative clause, ‘which he had helped to found’, it is clear that we are talking about the only Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. The use of ‘that’ implies that there is more than oneCentral Pacific and Southern Pacific railroad.
Had the sentence been, ‘fortune from the railroads…’ then we would need ‘that’, as Leland Stanford clearly did not helped to found all railroads. (For more on ‘that’ vs. ‘which’ check out Mike’s excellent blog post [LINK])
Finally, there is the difference between ‘to found’ and ‘to find.’ The former means to establish an organization and is the meaning we are going for here.
The next excerpt is from The Washington Post:
(A) The Google Drive cloud storage service had launched yesterday to much fanfare, but as with any new Google product, there are important questions about how the company will actually use personal data that has been uploaded to the system.
(B) The Google Drive cloud storage service launched yesterday to much fanfare, but as with any new Google product, there are important questions about how the company will actually use personal data uploaded to the system.
Answer choice (A) uses of the past perfect, ‘had launched.’ We only want to use past perfect if we are discussing two events in the past, one of which happened first. In both cases, the sentence is in present tense, ‘are important.’ Thus we want simple past, as found in (B), the answer.
Also the ‘uploaded to the system’ is an adjective clause that modifies ‘personal data.’ The ‘has been uploaded’ implies that data that to be uploaded in the future only contains data uploaded to this point. To avoid any tense issues, The Washington Post opts for the adjective clause.
I think such a subtle issue in tense is beyond the GMAT Sentence Correction. Anyhow, every wrong answer in Sentence Correction will have more than one grammar hiccup.
This post was written by Mike McGarry, GMAT expert at Magoosh, and originally posted here.