GMAT Sentence Correction: The Correct Use Of ‘Which’
A concept that frequently arises on GMAT Sentence Correction problems is the use of the word which. Understanding how to use this word correctly can help improve your performance on Sentence Correction problems.
First of all, the word which is a pronoun – more specifically, a relative pronoun. It can be singular or plural depending on the noun that directly precedes it. Consider the following examples:
Many students love to study for the GMAT, which is a 4-hour exam.
Many students love to take standardized tests, which are intellectually stimulating.
The key to correctly using ‘which’ on the GMAT is to make sure it correctly refers to the noun that precedes it, in the context of the sentence. Often you’ll find ‘which’ in a clause that is separated by a comma – in this case, ‘which’ should correctly refer to the noun right before the comma. Consider this problem from the Official Guide 13th edition (#48, pg, 680.)
It is called a sea, but the landlocked Caspian is actually the largest lake on Earth, which covers more than four times the surface area of its closest rival in size, North America’s Lake Superior.
Do you see the problem with answer choice (A)? The relative pronoun ‘which’ seems to refer to “Earth”. Thus, the sentence implies that Earth “covers more than four times the surface area of its closest rival in size”. That’s not correct; we’re trying to say that Lake Caspian covers more than four times the surface area of its closest rival.
If you examine the answer choices, (B) has the same problem. (C) fixes the error, so it’s a possibility. (D) is awkward and wordy. (E) has the word being, which as a rule of thumb is incorrect; (E) is also illogical in that it implies that the largest lake is called “a sea“, when it’s actually “the landlocked Caspian“.
Next, take a look at #73:
Unlike the original National Museum of Science and Technology in Italy, where the models are encased in glass or operated only by staff members, the Virtual Leonardo Project, an online version of the museum, encourages visitors to “touch” each exhibit, which thereby activates the animated features of the piece.
Answer choice (A) implies that each exhibit activates the animated features. In fact, we are trying to say that the visitors’ touch activates the animated features. So (A) is out. (B) is awkward and wordy. (C) has the ambiguous and unnecessary pronoun ‘it’. (D) seems like a strong possibility. (E) is awkwardly worded and also uses which incorrectly. So the correct answer is (D).
Now consider #112:
Construction of the Roman Colosseum, which was officially known as the Flavian Ampitheatre, began in A.D. 69, during the reign of Vespasian, was completed a decade later, during the reign of Titus, who opened the Colosseum with a one-hundred-day cycle of religious pageants, gladiatorial games, and spectacles.
Answer choice (A) correctly uses ‘which’, because the pronoun correctly refers to the Roman Colosseum. However, it has a different error. The sentence
Construction of the Colosseum… began in A.D. 69… was completed a decade later…
is clearly missing the word and. So (A) is out. (B) has the wrong verb tense begun. (C) uses ‘which’ correctly and fixes the error in (A), so it seems correct. (D) incorrectly uses begun and it. (E) incorrectly uses “which” because it refers to the Flavian Ampitheatre, implying that the Ampitheatre was begun in A.D. 69, when it was actually the construction that began in A.D. 69.
As you can see from these Official Guide problems, correctly understanding the use of which on the GMAT can help you improve your Sentence Correction. Not only can you eliminate answer choices that use the relative pronoun which incorrectly, but you can favor the choices that use it correctly.
Author: Matthew Kirisits