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The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC!

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The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC! [#permalink] New post 21 Nov 2011, 13:28
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I took the MGMAT class, it never addressed this. I have all the MGMAT books plus many others; they barley touch on this. I've read numerous conflicting explanations (even from GMAT instructors!) concerning this. Please, in relation to "which" or "that" after a prepositional phrase, would the SUPREME COURT OF SENTENCE CORRECTION uphold or dismiss the below previous rulings!

4 Popular examples (all the correct version):

In good years, the patchwork of green fields that surround the San Joaquin Valley town bustles with farm workers, many of them in the area just for the season.

In an effort improve the quality of patient care, Dr. Lydia Temoscho is directing one of several clinical research projects that seek to determine how helpful psychological counseling is in supplementing the medical treatment of serious disease.

The use of lie detectors is based on the assumption that lying produces emotional reactions in an individual that, in turn, create unconscious physiological response.

...one of Kirchkoff's laws, which was/were

1) That or which always refers to the first noun directly preceding it. (I'm 99.9% sure this is false)

2) That or which always refers to the entire noun phrase, and you should not pick any specific noun out of it.

3) That or which could refer to any noun in the noun phrase or the noun phrase as a whole, and you use the following verb to determine what the relative pronoun is referring to.

4) That or which could refer to any noun in the noun phrase or the noun phrase as a whole, and it is the reader's job to determine, based off what the sentence goes on to explain/describe, what the relative pronoun is referring to.

5) You can cross out the prepositional phrase when determining subject/verb agreement.

6) Contrary to what many believe, the relative pronoun that appears to prompt a subject/verb agreement issue, actually is rarely the cause of a SC split, and the error is usually something else.
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Re: The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC! [#permalink] New post 26 Nov 2011, 22:52
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Hmm, my answer is closest to #4, with a bit of 3 and 6 thrown in.

Let's use parentheses to clarify the meaning of your examples:

In good years, the patchwork (of green fields [that surround the San Joaquin Valley town]) bustles with farm workers, many of them in the area just for the season.
(By the way, I think this is a flawed problem, and not worthy of all the attention it gets on the forums.)

In an effort improve the quality of patient care, Dr. Lydia Temoscho is directing one (of several clinical research projects that seek to determine how helpful psychological counseling is in supplementing the medical treatment of serious disease).

The use of lie detectors is based on the assumption that lying produces emotional reactions (in an individual) that, in turn, create unconscious physiological responses. (I added a plural here; otherwise, you'd need to add "an" before "unconscious.")

. . . a patent for one (of Kirchoff's laws), an observation


So, in short, when you see a modifier following a prepositional phrase, there is no concrete rule saying whether the modifier applies to the original noun or to the object of the prepositional phrase. You need to use meaning to make the determination. As you said in #3, you may also use the following verb (among other clues) to help you decide. Here are a few more examples off the top of my head (all correct):

Police have captured one of a ring of drug smugglers who have been plaguing the area. (smugglers who)
Members of the committee who do not wish to vote may leave early. (Members . . . who)
The extensive network of caverns that lie beneath the city has yet to be thoroughly explored. (network . . . has yet, caverns that lie)
The price of steel, which had fluctuated wildly for many years, began a steady decline after the labor dispute. (price . . . which)

Notice that there isn't much ambiguity here. In each case, only one reading makes sense. You might make a case for "network (of caverns) that lies," but that's about it. If there is more than one valid way to read the sentence, there will probably be another split that makes the answer clear, or one of the choices will be a distinct departure from the intended meaning conveyed by the other choices.

I hope that helps. Dig up more examples for Supreme Court consideration if you like . . .
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Re: The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC! [#permalink] New post 01 Dec 2011, 17:28
haha. Well those are great examples and your response validated what I had believed, yet was uncertain of. Thank you very much. I hope more people see this relatively simple summary. I know I'm not the only one with these questions, especially seeing as the source of some of my confusion has been some of the explanations I've read.

The Supreme Court is just.
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Re: The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC! [#permalink] New post 14 Apr 2013, 08:31
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Beware of certainty. I can come up with an exception to almost any rule you care to cite, and the GMAT is sometimes "flexible" (if you want to be nice) or inconsistent (if you don't). SC doesn't just test your ability to mechanically apply rules--you have to look at the sentence as a whole, consider the intended meaning, and prioritize. Some issues turn out not to be as important as they look. I've certainly seen a problem on the real test in which every single answer choice violated something that we state as a rule. Sadly, the GMAT makes the rules, and we have to follow along after them trying to explain their decisions. Most of the time, they are consistent and sensible, but every now and then they're not!
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Re: The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC! [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2013, 02:04
For someone who hates having to study English grammar from scratch so late in life, this is probably great news. All the examples 'sounded' correct to my 'ear'. Isn't this a lot of common sense? I can't imagine any other combination where the sentence would still be true to its original meaning.

Also, the banter makes it easier to pay attention without going comatose. :) (relative pronoun, who?)
Re: The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC!   [#permalink] 16 Apr 2013, 02:04
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The single most popular and ambiguous concept in SC!

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