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Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence?

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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Verbal Experts’ Topic of the Week, June 26-30, 2017


WTF is “that” doing in my sentence?



Let’s start with yet another pop quiz, because we’re still cruel like that.

Except that this one is pretty easy. Here’s the question: is the following sentence acceptable on the GMAT?

    Bogdan's favorite restaurant is in Brooklyn that serves delicious Ukrainian vareniki.

Easy, right? Unless you’re brand-new to the GMAT, you’ve probably learned that “that” must modify the immediately preceding noun. So the sentence is illogical, since it’s literally saying that Brooklyn serves delicious Ukrainian vareniki – not the restaurant.

Easy enough. So how about this one?

    Although nearly everybody agrees that Carmelo Anthony is a terrible fit for the modern NBA, he nevertheless earns more than $30 million per year.

If you’re blindly following the “rule” that the word “that” must always modify the immediately preceding noun, you might hastily conclude that this sentence is incorrect, because “that” follows the verb (“agrees”). But this sentence is completely fine, and that brings us to an oddly nuanced question: what are the different uses of “that” on the GMAT?

So in the spirit of our previous posts on “-ing” and “-ed” words, here’s a guide to the GMAT’s four main uses of “that”.


Usage #1: "that” as a pronoun


I hear plenty of worries on GMAT Club about the use of “that” as a modifier, but in many cases, “that” is actually a noun. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Like the poetry of Bruce Willis, that of Chuck Norris is flowery and pretty.
  • Some have compared Russell Westbrook’s fashion sense to that of Kim Kardashian.

Whenever “that” is used as this type of pronoun (called a “demonstrative pronoun”, if you like jargon), it’s always singular. It’s just a tiny bit different from “it”, though: “that” basically creates a “copy” of the noun it refers back to.

So here’s what you always want to do when you see “that” used as a pronoun: replace “that” with the singular noun it “copies”, and then see if it actually makes logical sense. In my silly examples above, here’s what you’d have:

  • Like the poetry of Bruce Willis, the poetry of Chuck Norris is flowery and pretty.
  • Some have compared Russell Westbrook’s fashion sense to the fashion sense of Kim Kardashian.

Both of these make sense, so we’re all good. But the GMAT’s favorite trap with the pronoun “that” is to stick it in random places where it doesn’t belong. Check out this recent SC Question of the Day for a great example of “that” used (or misused, depending on the answer choice) as a pronoun. If you’re diligent about replacing “that” with the noun it “copies”, you won’t have any trouble at all.

Some of our other favorite official questions with demonstrative pronouns can be found here, here, and here. And this one is a particular favorite of mine, since it really forces you to think about what “that” is actually doing in the sentence.

On to the second use of “that” on the GMAT:


Usage #2: “that” as an article


The second use of “that” really isn’t all that interesting, and it rarely causes any trouble on the GMAT: “that” can just be an article that precedes a noun. A couple of examples:

  • Mike read Lord of the Flies in high school; like most teenagers, he absolutely detested that book, and prefers literature by Tripathi and Hitler.
  • Charlie is obsessed with Neerob, a Bengali eatery in the Bronx, because that restaurant’s shrimp dopeaja is consistently amazing.

In both examples, “that” is simply an article, and it’s not all that different from “the book” or “the restaurant”, except it refers back to a specific case mentioned earlier. Now, we’re not just talking about “a book” or “a restaurant” – we’re discussing that particular book or that particular restaurant.

And don’t worry: you’ll never have to choose between “that” and “the” on the GMAT. The GMAT isn’t going to do anything tricky with “that” as an article – you just don’t want to develop a case of tunnel vision, and mistake the article “that” for a noun or a modifier.

Need an official example? Here's a nice, harmless question, featuring the word “that” used as an article.

I know: that really wasn’t very exciting. Let's move on to usage #3:


Usage #3: subordinating clauses with “that”


Remember this sentence from the beginning of this thread?

    Although nearly everybody agrees that Carmelo Anthony is a terrible fit for the modern NBA, he nevertheless earns more than $30 million per year.

Occasionally, I’ll hear GMAT test-takers say that this example is wrong, because “that” must modify a noun, not a verb. But in this example, “that” is just the beginning of a subordinate clause: what is it that everybody agrees on? That “Carmelo Anthony is a terrible fit for the modern NBA.” A good example of this type of usage on the GMAT can be found in this Question of the Day, which also features some nice parallelism issues.

Again, this particular use of “that” is unlikely to cause trouble for you on the GMAT, unless you develop yet another terrible case of tunnel vision, and decide that “that” can only modify nouns.

And now for the fun stuff:


Usage #4: "that" as a modifier (the “touch rule" and its exceptions)


As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, one of the first things most people learn about GMAT sentence correction is the so-called “touch rule”: noun modifiers beginning with “that” (or “which” or “who” or “when” or “where” or “whose”) must always “touch” the noun being modified. Back to our silly example from earlier:

    Bogdan's favorite restaurant is in Brooklyn that serves delicious Ukrainian vareniki.

You’re probably still not fooled by this one: it’s literally saying that Brooklyn serves Ukrainian vareniki, and that’s simply not logical.

OK, so how about this one?

    The son of a gun that burned my dinner deserves to be punished.

If you’re being too hasty with this, you might say, “Wait, the gun didn't burn my dinner – the son did. So it’s wrong!” (For those of you who aren’t familiar with obsolete American slang: “son of a gun” is basically a really silly, mid-20th century synonym for “jerk.”)

But the sentence isn’t wrong at all, because this is a perfectly acceptable exception to the “touch rule.” The noun modifier “that burned by dinner” is “reaching back” to modify “the son” – not the gun – and that’s completely fine here. Why is that acceptable? The phrase “of a gun” is a prepositional phrase that also modifies “the son.” And it can be perfectly OK for a noun modifier to “reach behind” a prepositional phrase, as long as it’s necessary for the meaning of the sentence.

Here’s a less-slangy example:

    The first-class airline tickets to Antarctica that were purchased using Amber’s retirement savings were worth every penny.

Again, if you’re being too hasty, you might assume that the sentence is literally saying that “Antarctica were purchased using Amber’s retirement savings” – and that’s obviously incorrect. But notice that “to Antarctica” is another prepositional phrase, so it’s possible for “that were purchased” to “reach behind” the prepositional phrase if need be.

And in this case, that seems perfectly reasonable: the “first-class airline tickets… that were purchased…” makes sense. So this sentence is completely fine.


Please don’t hallucinate the exceptions!


Here’s the important thing to remember: in the vast majority of GMAT questions, “that” and other noun modifiers (“which”, “who”, “where”, “when”, etc.) will still “touch” the noun being modified. The exceptions exist, but they’re relatively rare.

So if you think you might have an exception to the “touch rule”, look for two major characteristics:

    1) “that” (and similar noun modifiers) can only “reach behind” prepositional phrases -- not verbs or clauses
    2) the meaning of the sentence must give you a compelling reason to “reach behind” the prepositional phrase

So please keep in mind that exceptions to the “touch rule” are relatively rare – and that the word “that” might not even be a modifier at all.

If you want official examples of violations of the “touch rule”, check out some of our favorites here, here, or here.


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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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New post 30 Jun 2017, 09:49
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Thanks a lot for this, I hope lots of our mistakes will be rectified with this understanding.

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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New post 30 Jun 2017, 21:52
GMATNinja wrote:

Usage #1: "that” as a pronoun





Hi GMATNinja,

Sometimes that is not followed by complete verb and is used in comparison to specify an entity too.
Any views on this OG eg:
https://gmatclub.com/forum/scientists-h ... 05348.html

Here THAT is very much required since its absence distorts comparison.

When used as demonstrative pronoun, as in your post, it can not be followed by verb / clause.
However more usage in GMAT is of that as relative pronoun must be followed by verb, making THAT ... a dependent clause.
Is this usage correct?

WR,
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Last edited by adkikani on 30 Jun 2017, 21:58, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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New post 17 Jul 2017, 07:28
adkikani wrote:
Hi GMATNinja,

Sometimes that is not followed by complete verb and is used in comparison to specify an entity too.
Any views on this OG eg:
https://gmatclub.com/forum/scientists-h ... 05348.html

Here THAT is very much required since its absence distorts comparison.

I'm not 100% sure that I understand your question correctly in this case, but the two uses of "that" in the question in that link are just versions of #1 and #3. Sure, I would agree that you very much need the word "that" to make sense of the comparison(s), but "that" still either subordinates a clause or functions as a demonstrative pronoun, depending on which "that" you're looking at in the OA. Feel free to tag me in that thread if you have more questions about that particular example.

Quote:
When used as demonstrative pronoun, as in your post, it can not be followed by verb / clause.

Sure, you could follow a demonstrative pronoun ("that" or "those") with a verb, as long as the referent and the meaning make sense:

    The noodles sold in Bangkok are tastier than those sold in Denver. --> pronoun "those" is followed by verb "sold", and it makes perfect sense in this case
    The corn grown in Iowa contains higher amounts of starch than that grown in Nova Scotia. --> pronoun "that" is followed by verb "grown"... and we could argue that it sounds a little bit funny, but it's completely fine

Here's an official example: https://gmatclub.com/forum/700-lacking- ... 96705.html

Quote:
However more usage in GMAT is of that as relative pronoun must be followed by verb, making THAT ... a dependent clause.
Is this usage correct?


I'm not quite sure what you mean with this part. I think you're talking about either usage #3 or #4 from the original article? In most of these cases, the relative pronoun would indeed be followed by a verb, but you'd have a subordinate clause, not a dependent clause. But the GMAT isn't going to ask you to define the difference between dependent and subordinate clauses, fortunately! :-D
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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New post 28 Jul 2017, 23:17
Hi GMATNinja

Do the pronoun modifier with too behave similar to that / which
meaning modifying preceding clause / noun?

Can you help subtle difference between with vs which as in this OG Q
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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New post 29 Sep 2017, 04:34
Hey GMATNinja

I found a GMATPrep question in which "that" is used as a modifier and jumps over the "passive verb" . According to your article, "that" won't jump over verbs to modify some noun. Is this an exception to the rule?

https://gmatclub.com/forum/after-more-t ... 86558.html

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/26/17: WTF is THAT doing in my sentence? [#permalink]

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New post 02 Oct 2017, 05:38
pikolo2510

I am not an expert but let me add my two cents.

The reason why THAT jumps over the verb is being tested to modify a new type of jet engine is that this relative pronoun modifier
can not be placed anywhere else in the context of the sentence. I know you might love if THAT
is placed exactly next to subject a new type of jet engine
but then the verb will be too far from subject which is not appreciated by GMAT.

Let me know if this helps!
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