Explanations September



During the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, Florence Griffith Joyner became an Olympic track and field champion that the phenomenon known as “Flo Jo” emerged. With her flashy one-legged running outfits, long hair, and brightly painted fingernails, she captured four medals and the world’s attention.


B. champion, and
C. champion, then
D. champion,


(A) is incorrect because that creates a jumbled sentence: this word must be followed by a verb, but here it is followed by a noun (the phenomenon). (C) and (D) are both incorrect because they create comma splices — two complete sentences separated by a comma. (B) is correct because comma + and = period, and a period can be plugged in to create two sentences: During the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, Florence Griffith Joyner became an Olympic track and field champion. The phenomenon known as “Flo Jo” emerged.





I still remember my first real scientific experiment—it was a high school microbiology exercise that involved growing bacteria in a petri dish. The experiment was very simple, but I’d never done anything remotely like it. When I checked on my results after a few days, I was shocked to see that the colonies have expanded.


B. are expanding.
C. had expanded.
D. would have expanded.


The passage is written in the past tense (was, involved, checked), so the underlined verb must be in the past tense as well. (A) does not work because have expanded is the present perfect — this tense is used to describe an action that began in the past and is continuing into the present. (B) does not work because are expanding is the present. (D) can be eliminated as well because would have is used to refer to actions that could have occurred but did not actually occur. That leaves (C): the past perfect (had expanded) is correctly used to indicate a past action (the colonies expanded) that came before another action (the writer was shocked).





Since ancient times, swans have been associated with tranquility and nobility, featuring in myths and stories around the world. Their high status is likely to have come about because of their perceived beauty and natural behavior: they are solitary birds, strong and aggressively protective of their young, but at the same time graceful and elegant on the water.


B. young—but
C. young but,
D. young


The fastest way to answer this question is to recognize that the comma after young in (A) signals the end of a non-essential clause. When that clause is crossed out, the sentence still makes sense: they are solitary birds…but at the same time graceful and elegant on the water. Because the non-essential clause begins with a comma, it must end with a comma as well. That eliminates (B). A comma cannot be placed after but, eliminating (C). And (D) can be eliminated because removing the transition creates a run-on when this answer is plugged in (they are solitary birds, strong and aggressively protective of their young at the same time graceful and elegant on the water). Again, that leaves (A).





Born in 1889, Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe was the third of seven children. She painted in both watercolors and oils: her grandmothers, Isabella Totto and Catherine O’Keeffe, were both painters, and she and her sisters Georgia and Anita were sent to study with a local artist, Sarah Mann, when they were young. While Anita did not choose to pursue an artistic career, another sister, Catherine, taught herself to paint and also became an artist.


Which choice provides the most effective transition between the beginning of the passage and information that follows?


B. Art ran in the family
C. During World War I, she worked as a nurse
D. She earned her master’s in fine arts from Columbia University


Although the question is phrased in terms of a “transition,” you must focus on the information that follows because the underlined sentence must set up that information — what comes before is less important. The portion of the sentence that follows the colon focuses on the fact that multiple members of O’Keeffe’s family participated in creating art. The only answer that information is consistent with is (B); all of the other options are off-topic.





In the eighteenth century, Linnaeus’s numerous books established a system of nomenclature that gave science an international language for identifying plants. Linnaean binomials, or two-word names, consisted of the genus (like a surname, designating a group of closely related plants) and the species (like a first name, designating the individual or specific kind of plant).


The writer is considering deleting the underlined portion (adjusting the punctuation accordingly). Should it be kept or deleted?


A. Kept, because it defines a term with which readers are unlikely to be familiar.
B. Kept, because it provides a specific example of a Linnaean binomial.
C. Deleted, because it shifts the focus from Linnaeus’s books to individual plants.
D. Deleted, because it does not indicate how plants were classified before Linnaeus.


The easiest way to approach this question is to spend a couple of seconds answering the question on your own, before you look at the choices. At the simplest level, the underlined information provides a definition — that is, it explains what Linnaean binomials are. With that information, you can quickly identify (A) as the most likely answer. And in fact, Linnaean binomials is a term most readers will probably not know, so the underlined information should be retained. All of the other answers are off-topic.





The phrase “barren sand flat” does not typically inspire creativity. It is this condition, however, that makes the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico the perfect spot for the United States’ first Underwater Museum of Art (UMA). Like similar undertakings near Cancun, the museum is best suited for scuba divers. On clear days, snorkelers can enjoy the submerged journey which showcases seven sculptures at a depth of around 60 feet and intermingles responsible tourism, environmentalism, and creativity.


B. journey, which showcases seven sculptures
C. journey which showcases seven sculptures,
D. journey which showcases: seven sculptures


The easiest way to answer this question is to know that which must follow a comma. That makes (B) the only possible answer. Otherwise, you can eliminate (C) because the comma after sculptures incorrectly places a comma before a preposition (at) when this answer is plugged into the sentence, and you can eliminate (D) because a complete, standalone sentence must come before a colon. To decide between (A) and (B), however, you must know the rule for which and commas.





Gaze-following is instinctual for many animals—including chimpanzees, goats, dolphins, and even the red-footed tortoise—because it alerts them to everything from imminent threats to potential sources of food.


B. imminent threats,
C. eminent threats
D. eminent threats,


Imminent means “about to occur,” whereas eminent means “distinguished” or “well-known.” Only the first definition makes sense in context of the passage, eliminating (C) and (D). (B) is also incorrect because this answer places a comma before a preposition (to) when it is plugged into the sentence; (A) correctly omits the comma.





Founded by art historian and collector William Arnett, Souls Grown Deep traces the history of many Outsider artistic creations back to the collapse of the agricultural economy in the aftermath of the Civil War, when African Americans were forced to migrate from rural areas to larger cities in search of work. During that period, folk artists had practical as well as stylistic reasons to use scavenged materials in that period: many of them were poor, so they worked with what they had.


B. throughout that period
C. during this period
D. DELETE the underlined portion.


The sentence already begins with the phrase During that period, so the inclusion of that information at the end of the sentence as well is redundant. As a result, it should be deleted, making (D) correct.





Although seaweed harvesting is hardly a new industry—New England’s farmers have nourished their fields with “sea manure” for centuries—rockweed has lately become a valuable commercial product. An ingredient in everything from fertilizers to pet foods to nutritional supplements.


B. product, an ingredient
C. product; an ingredient
D. product, it is an ingredient


You can identify the answer to this question with near-certainty using shortcuts alone: a period and a semicolon are grammatically equivalent, so (A) and (C) can be conclusively eliminated—if two answers are equivalent, neither can be correct because a question cannot have two right answers. In this case, these options are wrong because an ingredient in everything from fertilizers to pet foods to nutritional supplements is not a sentence. In (D), the construction comma + it suggests that this answer contains a comma splice—two complete sentences separated by a comma. And in fact, that is the case. That leaves (B) as the answer.





In the early 1900s, photographer David Fairchild trained his camera on a part of the world most of us ignore: the insects under our feet. His resulting body of work, published in 1913 in National Geographic magazine, was unique not only for its subject matter but also to its use of magnified images that showed bugs in intricate detail.


B. with
C. for
D. at


The presence of the word pair not onlybut also indicates that the preposition on each side of the word pair must be the same. Not only is followed by for, so but also must be followed by for as well. That makes the answer (C).





In the mid-nineteenth century, almost everyone in the United States agreed that women’s clothing posed a problem. The dictates of modesty called for floor-length dresses, and fashion demanded a full skirt beneath a tiny waist. Some women squeezed themselves into corsets and six to eight petticoats to fill out the shape of their skirts. The result weighed up to 15 pounds, placed enormous pressure on their hips, and movement was a struggle.


B. made movement a struggle.
C. they struggled to move.
D. a struggle for movement occurred.


The underlined portion involves the third item in a list, so the format of this item must match the format of the previous two. Each of those items begins with a verb (weighed, placed), so the third item must begin with a verb as well. Only (B) contains the correct construction (made), so it is correct.





Working from repurposed natural, industrial, and mass-produced objects, artist Gabriel Kuri explores the potential for transformation by looking at familiar things from unexpected angles. Everyday objects become a part of his sculptures, plastic bags, advertising flyers, and receipts.


B. Everyday objects, including plastics bags, advertising flyers, and receipts, become part of his sculptures.
C. Plastic bags, advertising flyers, and receipts become part of his sculptures, being everyday objects.
D. Part of his sculptures, plastic bags, advertising flyers, and receipts, which are everyday objects.


As a rule, modifiers must be placed as close as possible to the words/phrases they modify. The list plastic bags, advertising flyers, and receipts must refer to everyday objects, and so the two phrases must be placed next to one another. (A) creates a misplaced modifier by placing the list next to sculptures and can thus be eliminated. (C) is incorrect because these two elements are again separated, and because the phrase being everyday objects contains an unnecessary gerund (being). (D) is incorrect because it contains a fragment — the verb are “belongs” to the subject which rather than to its logical subject: plastic bags, advertising flyers, and receipts. As a result, the sentence is missing a main verb. (B) is correct because the word including makes it clear that the list is providing examples of everyday objects.





Imagine standing in front of a wall of windows, surveying the view. You hear someone enter the room behind you. You turn. “Welcome,” you say. “Here is the video, I wanted to show you.” At the press of a button, the view vanishes, and the windows transform into a high-definition television screen.


B. video I wanted
C. video, that I wanted
D. video that, I wanted


The underlined phrase can be written two ways: Here is the video I wanted to show you, or Here is the video that I wanted to show you. As a general rule, no comma should be used before or after that, eliminating (C) and (D). When that is not used, no comma should be used in its place, eliminating (A). (B) correctly omits the unnecessary punctuation.





From its very first moments in print on March 20, 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an enormous success. It sold 3,000 copies on its first day, and Frederick Douglass reported that 5,000 copies—the entire first print run—were purchased within four days.


Which of the following would NOT be an acceptable alternative to the underlined portion?


A. a rousing
B. a smashing
C. a burning
D. an overwhelming


It is idiomatically acceptable to say that something was a rousing, smashing, or overwhelming success. Only burning cannot be used to indicate a high level of success. Because the question asks you to identify the answer that is NOT acceptable, (C) is correct.





The myth of the disappearing book isn’t new. As early as 1894, there was speculation that the introduction of the phonograph would spell the demise of print books, which would be replaced by what we today call audiobooks.


B. label
C. annotate
D. decipher


To spell the demise of something is an idiomatic phrase meaning “to signal the downfall.” None of the other options have this meaning, making (A) correct.





I have always been intrigued by Thanksgiving—the traditions, the meal, the idea of a holiday that is simply about being thankful. For my family, Thanksgiving is all about the food, some of it is typical, but there are a few twists. The reliability of the menu—with a little flexibility sprinkled in—seems to unite us as a family while acknowledging our different backgrounds.


B. food. Some of it is typical,
C. food, and some of which is typical,
D. food; some typical,


This question is essentially testing the distinction between pronoun + of them (subject, can be used to begin an independent clause) and pronoun + of which (not a subject, can only begin a dependent clause). (A) can be eliminated because the comma before some of it creates a comma splice—two complete sentences separated by a comma. (C) is incorrect because comma + and = period, but a period cannot be plugged in without creating a fragment: For my family, Thanksgiving is all about the food. Some of which is typical, but there are a few twists. (D) is incorrect because a semicolon can only be used to separate two sentences, and some typical, but there are a few twists is not a sentence. That leaves (B), which correctly places a period between two complete sentences.





Imagine you’re a cat, and every time you meow, the loud voice of a snooty-sounding British gentleman kindly conveys your every thought and feeling to your human guardian. A product called the Catterbox—the world’s first talking cat collar—believes to do just that. A microphone and a speaker are used to capture a cat’s meow and translate it into an English-speaking human voice.


B. purports
C. insists
D. allows


Based on the context, the underlined word must mean something like “claims.” Believes, insists, and allows neither match that definition nor fit grammatically. Don’t get sidetracked by (D): you can say x allows someone to do y, but you cannot say x allows to do. (B) is the only option that fits: purports means “makes a claim to.” Note that even if you do not know the definition of this word, you can still answer the question through process of elimination.





Sneakers as we know them might never of came to be without Charles Goodyear’s invention of vulcanized rubber. Despite his poor business sense, the inventor saw an opportunity for technological advancement when he purchased hundreds of rubber life preservers that had melted in the summer heat. After years of experimentation, Goodyear finally happened upon the combination of lead, sulfur, and heat that allowed the rubber to keep its shape.


B. of come to be
C. have came to be
D. have come to be


Could, would, should, and might can only be followed by have, not of, eliminating (A) and (B). In addition, the past participle (come) rather than the simple past (came) must follow any form of the verb to have. That eliminates (C) and makes (D) correct.





Physicists trace the history of quantum theory back to 1927, when German physicist Werner Heisenberg showed that the classical physics methods did not apply to very small objects. When someone throws a ball, for instance, it’s easy to determine exactly where the ball is, and how fast it’s moving. But as Heisenberg showed, that’s not true for an atom or a subatomic particle. Instead, an observer can see either where it is and how fast it’s moving – but not both at the exact same time.


B. and if it’s moving fast
C. or how fast it’s moving
D. or is it moving fast


Right before the underlined portion, the word either appears (an observer can see either where it is…). Either must be paired with or, so (A) and (B) can be eliminated. As a rule, the constructions on either side of a word pair must match, so the underlined portion must be parallel to where it is. Only (C) contains the same general construction (relative pronoun + subject + verb), making it the answer.





The stamp celebrating the launch of the U.S. airmail service was an impressive sight. It featured a Curtiss JN-4 or “Jenny”, the same plane set to deliver the mail, and was printed in carmine rose and deep blue. The striking color scheme no doubt wooed buyers, but it also signaled a printing error. It was just the second time the Postal Service had attempted a two-color stamp, and with the fervor of World War I, sloppy mistakes were a more likely occurrence.


Which of the following would NOT be an acceptable alternative to the underlined word?


A. pursued
B. enticed
C. charmed
D. pleased


Note that it does not matter whether you know what wooed or enticed means — you do not need to know the definition of the original word in the passage, and if you can identify the right (i.e., wrong) answer, the meanings of the other answers become irrelevant. In this case, pursued simply does not make sense: a feature of a product (the striking color scheme) cannot chase after, i.e., pursue, buyers. Because the question asks you to identify the answer that is NOT acceptable, (A) is correct. Enticed, charmed, and pleased are all acceptable because they indicate that the striking color scheme was attractive or appealing to buyers.





The Kingikmiut Nanuuq Patrol—or the Wales polar bear patrol—resulted from an innovative partnership between the tribal council in Wales, Alaska United States government wildlife officials, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Patrollers are trained to chase visiting polar bears out of town using an escalating range of deterrents. The goal is simple: to keep people safe from bears, while also keeping bears safe from people.


B. Wales, Alaska; United States government wildlife officials, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
C. Wales, Alaska, United States government wildlife officials; and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
D. Wales, Alaska; United States government wildlife officials; and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).


When questions test punctuation between the items in a list, the correct answer will almost always include commas rather than semicolons. However, semicolons are also acceptable. The only inviolable rule is that the punctuation must remain consistent—commas and semicolons may not both be used. In this case, the only answer that uses the same type of punctuation between all the items is (D), which happens to use semicolons. As a result, that answer is correct.





On June 30, 1908, an explosion ripped through the air above a remote forest in Siberia, near the Tunguska River. It destroyed 2,000 square kilometers of forest, flattening about 80 million trees. The earth trembled. Windows were shattered in the nearest town, more than 35 miles away. Residents even felt heat from the blast, and some were blown off their feet.


Which choice provides the most relevant detail at this point in the paragraph?


B. Researchers are unsure whether the explosion was caused by an asteroid or a meteoroid.
C. Over the last century, over 1,000 papers have been published about the explosion.
D. An explosion of this magnitude would have destroyed a larger metropolitan area.


To answer this question, focus on the statement that comes after the underlined portion — the preceding sentences do not provide enough information. The last sentence refers to residents who felt heat from the blast, so logically, the correct answer must give some idea of who those “residents” were. (B) and (C) are completely off-topic and can be eliminated, but be careful with (D): this answer is describing a hypothetical situation (what would have happened in a larger metropolitan area), whereas (A) refers to a specific place (the nearest town) and clearly indicates where the residents lived. (A) is the stronger answer and is thus correct.





For most of our lives, we use language to categorize objects, colors, emotions, and pretty much everything meaningful. Although our eyes can perceive thousands of colors, the way we communicate about them – and the way we use color in our everyday lives – requires us to carve this huge variety up into identifiable, meaningful categories. Painters and fashion experts, for example, use color terminology to refer to and discriminate between hues and shades that non-experts typically describe with one simple term.


B. nevertheless,
C. consequently,
D. meanwhile,


The underlined transition appears between two commas, indicating that it is being used to signal the relationship between the sentence in which it appears and the sentence(s) before — it does not connect two parts of the same sentence. As a result, you must start by considering the relationship between the information preceding the last sentence and the last sentence. The previous sentence indicates that people must categorize colors in order to communicate meaningfully about them. The final sentence then illustrates this idea by citing painters and fashion experts who must make fine distinctions between colors for professional reasons. The last sentence is therefore used as an example, making (A) correct.





At the age of 51, Georgia O’Keeffe was asked by the Philadelphia advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son to travel to Hawaii to produce two print-ad images for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later renamed Dole. Not known for commercial work, O’Keeffe had completed a commission in 1936 — what would be the largest of her flower paintings — for the Elizabeth Arden Sport Salon in New York.


B. agency N.W. Ayer & Son,
C. agency, N.W. Ayer & Son,
D. agency, N.W. Ayer & Son


When names in the middle of a sentence are tested, there are typically only two correct options: two commas (non-essential) and no commas (essential). To check which one is correct, cross out the name, and read the sentence without it. At the age of 51, Georgia O’Keeffe was asked by the Philadelphia advertising agency…to travel to Hawaii to produce two print-ad images for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later renamed Dole. Although the sentence still makes grammatical sense, it does not really make sense in terms of meaning — we do not know what the Philadelphia advertising agency was called. As a result, the information is essential, and no commas should be used. That makes (A) correct.





Frank J. Sulloway, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley believes that family roles based on birth order and competition between siblings affect a person’s behavior and eventually shape your personality.


B. one’s
C. their
D. his or her


The underlined pronoun logically refers to a person, singular, so the correct answer must be singular. That eliminates (C). (A) and (B) can also be eliminated because one’s should be paired with one, and your should be paired with you. His or her is singular and correctly corresponds to a person, making (D) the answer.




José Martí considered New York his adopted hometown and wrote dazzling accounts of the city, likening the cables of the brand new Brooklyn Bridge, to satisfied colossal boa constrictors resting on top of towers. He also rarely passed up an opportunity to let the city amuse him and was an enthusiastic patron of H.M. Barnum’s circus, billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”


B. Bridge to satisfied colossal boa constrictors resting,
C. Bridge to satisfied colossal boa constrictors resting
D. Bridge to satisfied, colossal, boa constrictors resting


(A) is incorrect because it places a comma before a preposition (to). When it is plugged in, (B) creates the same error: the comma after resting is placed before the preposition on. (D) is incorrect because it places a comma between an adjective (colossal) and the noun it modifies (boa constrictors). (C) is correct because no punctuation is necessary in the underlined section.





When Arcosanti opened in 1970, its founder, the Italian architect Paolo Soleri, imagined the small Arizona desert complex would of became a city of thousands of people, all living together in harmony in what he called an arcology—a community where nature and architecture work together to create a balanced existence.


B. would have became
C. would become
D. became


Would can only be followed by have, not of, eliminating (A). (B) can be eliminated because any form of to have must be followed by the past participle (become) rather than the simple past (became). Although (D) is in the simple past and is thus parallel to the other verbs in the passage, it does not make logical sense: Soleri could not have imagined that Arcosanti became something right when it opened. Logically, this verb must describe Soleri’s hopes for Arcosanti’s future. When the future is discussed from the perspective of the past, would + verb must be used, making the answer (C).





In the 1930s, the concept of showing movies outdoors wasn’t new: people often watched silent films on screens set up at beaches or other places boasting an abundance of sky. However, it was an auto-parts salesman named Richard Hollingshead whom saw the genius in giving a car-loving society one more activity to do in their vehicles.


B. who
C. which
D. and


As a rule, who rather than whom must be used before a verb, eliminating (A). (C) is incorrect because the underlined pronoun refers to a person, and which can only refer to things. (D) is incorrect as well because plugging in and creates a nonsense construction (However, it was an auto-parts salesman named Richard Hollingshead and saw…). (B) correctly uses who to refer back to Richard Hollingshead.





On a gloomy Wednesday morning, thousands of spectators gathered in Washington, D.C.’s Potomac Park to witness what would be the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service. As the crowd buzzed with excitement, President Woodrow Wilson stood with the pilot, Second Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle. The two men chatted for a few minutes, Wilson in a three-piece suit and bowler hat, Boyle in his leather flying cap, a cigarette in his mouth. The president dropped a letter in Boyle’s sack, and the pilot took off for his journey from Washington, D.C., to New York, with plans to stop in Philadelphia for delivery and refueling. The flight, however, never made it to the City of Brotherly Love.


The writer is considering deleting the underlined portion of the sentence (replacing the comma after minutes with a period). Should the writer do this?


A. Yes, because it is irrelevant to the paragraph’s focus on the airmail service’s first flight.
B. Yes, because it suggests that Wilson and Boyle disagreed about the importance of the airmail service.
C. No, because it provides a detailed description that helps the reader envision the encounter between Wilson and Boyle.
D. No, because it emphasizes that Wilson and Boyle were able to overcome their differences.


Remember that “delete” questions are, in fact, asking you to determine two things: first, what type of information does the underlined portion contain, and second, is that information relevant? In this case, the underlined portion provides a description of Wilson’s and Boyle’s appearances. That information alone points to (C), and the explanation that answer provides makes sense as well: those details do, in fact, help the reader to envision the scene, and so they should NOT be removed. All of the other answers are unrelated to the idea of a detailed description, making (C) correct.




In southern Manitoba, a bison kept escaping a ranch. The locals nicknamed him Freddy, and he became something of a minor celebrity. He even had a song dedicated to him. After witnessing the media coverage surrounding Freddy, a renaissance-style choral arrangement was inspired to be crafted by composer Elliot Britton, complete with contemporary pop-chord progressions accompanied by traditional fiddle and electronically distorted bison noises.


B. the crafting of a renaissance-style choral arrangement was inspired by composer Elliot Britton.
C. composer Elliot Britton was inspired to craft a renaissance-style choral arrangement,
D. composer Elliot Britton, who was inspired to craft a renaissance-style choral arrangement,


Who witness[ed] the media coverage surrounding Freddy? Composer Elliot Britton. So composer Elliot Britton, the subject, must be placed at the beginning of the underlined phrase; otherwise, a dangling modifier is created. That eliminates (A) and (B). (D) can also be eliminated because this option creates a fragment: the verb was “belongs” to who rather than to composer Elliot Britton, and so the sentence lacks a main verb. The error is absent from (C), making it correct.



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