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Puritans and Parallelism on GMAT SC

Posted in Test Prep on August 19, 2011 by

Last time I wrote about how some students place too great an emphasis on memorizing grammar rules. This misplaced emphasis can cause those students to eliminate answer choices that are grammatically and logically correct. Let’s look at a sample problem:

Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was a painter and a musician, created paintings both based on the pop-art works of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, yet he rejected pop-art’s promotion of consumerism and embraced overtly political themes in his work.

A ) Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was a painter and a musician, created paintings both based

B )Jean-Michel Basquiat, the painter and musician, created paintings that were based both

C) Painter and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat, who created paintings based

D) Painter and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat created paintings that were based

E) Painter and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat created paintings based both

A grammar Puritan might focus on the “he” in the second clause of the sentence: “Does not the “he” refer to the closest male, Robert Rauschenberg? The sentence, though, is about Basquiat, so this sentence has an ambiguous pronoun!” The meaning of the sentence, however, is clear. Basquiat is the subject of the sentence and it is obvious that he, not Warhol or Rauscheberg, is the one who “rejected pop art’s promotion of consumerism…”. Also, neither the pronoun nor the other artists in the sentence are underlined, so we must look elsewhere for the error.

It is a tricky error to spot. The word “both” is a tell: we might have a parallelism error here. To have proper parallelism, we need this structure: “both A and B”, where A and B are grammatically equal. So we could fix the sentence thus: “both based on the pop-art works of Andy Warhol and BASED ON THOSE of Robert Rauschenberg.” But that portion of the sentence is not underlined. So how do we fix the parallelism problem?

Removing the word “both” actually does the job. Without “both,” the sentence no longer commits a parallelism error. It is now clear that Basquiat’s painting are based on one general source (“pop-art works”) of two different painters. Only answer choices C and D get rid of “both.” The full sentence has a “comma + FANBOYS construction” (“… , yet he rejected…”), so what precedes the comma must be an independent clause. Only D has a main verb, for the verb “created” in C is taken by the relative pronoun “who.” D is correct.

Next time, I’ll either continue with Sentence Correction or write about some difficult strengthening and weakening questions in Critical Reasoning. Cast your votes below!