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Source: Official Guide for the GMAT 13th Ed. Sentence Correction; #29 Official Guide for the GMAT 2015 14th Ed. Sentence Correction; #29


Emily Dickinson's letters to Susan Huntington were

Emily Dickinson's letters to Susan Huntington were written over a period beginning a few years before Susan's marriage to Emily's brother and ending shortly before Emily's death in 1886, outnumbering her letters to anyone else.

6 Explanations


Could you help to explain the adjectival phrase set off by commas as explained in the official guide?

Why answer choice D is incorrect? beginning....., ending....., and outnumbering

Apr 6, 2017 • Comment

Cydney Seigerman, Magoosh Tutor


Happy to help! While it looks like the three elements you've pointed out are in parallelism, this is actually a false parallelism. "Beginning and ending" refer to the period of time, while this period of time didn't "outnumber" anything. Rather it's the letters to Susan Huntington that outnumber.

Additionally, we have a sentence fragment in this case. There's no main verb for the subject of the sentence, "Emily Dickinson’s letters to Susan Huntington." The verb "were written" is the only verb in the sentence and it is part of a subordinate clause.

Hope this clears up your doubts about (D)! :)

Apr 8, 2017 • Reply



If I modify the choice B as below will it be right ?
Dickinson were written over a period that begins a few years before Susan's marriage to Emily's brother and ended shortly before Emily's death in 1886, outnumbering...

I have changed the verb to participle (outnumbering), so that it will modify the entire action and the main verb is also in parallel construction. (were written and ended)..

Jan 4, 2017 • Comment


Hi Dino,

Though "outnumbering" is something that (B) would need, there are still other problems with (B). It doesn't make sense to use present tense "begins" to refer to a period that began more than 100 years ago.

Second, "ended" wants to refer to "a period that begins... and ended," so it doesn't need to be in parallel with "were written." The sentence isn't saying that the letters themselves ended — it's saying that the period during which time the letters were written ended.

To make it clear that "ended" should be in parallel with "period that begins," it would be better with "that ended...", but I'm not sure whether the GMAT would make a correct choice hinge on the inclusion of "that."

Jan 4, 2017 • Reply


abhisek roy

In one of your Video, it has been taught that main verb should come after immediately after the main subject. But in this sentence, outnumber is coming after long modifier ( which....).
So how we can pick up this answer choice.

Jul 11, 2016 • Comment

Cydney Seigerman, Magoosh Tutor

Hi Abhisek,

Good question! As you can see from this OG example, it's not the case that the main verb must come immediately after the main subject. That construction can often be the most elegant way to write a sentence, but that's not always the case. In this sentence, we need the phrase "which were written [...] in 1886" to modify the noun phrase "Emily Dickinson’s letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson." The construction in (E) effectively does this, applying the touch rule, if we consider the entire noun phrase.

If we were to remove the entire phrase within the commas, we have, as you correctly pointed out, a complete sentence, where the main verb "outnumber" matches up correctly with the main subject, "letters."

Hope this helps :)

Jul 24, 2016 • Reply



Can we eliminate option C for the below reason:
The word 'that' can refer to either the writing of letters or the marriage. Not clear, and hence C eliminated.


Aug 28, 2015 • Comment

Hannah Baker

Hi Ash,
While answer choice C is ridden with problems that are even more glaring than the one you pointed out, you are correct in saying the use of "that" is incorrect here.

However, it's not because of an ambiguous antecedent. Rather, it has to do with parallelism. We can't say "beginning...and that ends". One doesn't follow the other. It would have to be either:

"beginning...and ending"


"that begins...and ends"

I hope that helps!

Nov 2, 2015 • Reply


In option E , Subordinate clause "which were......" is modifying noun
Susan H Dickinson
Here letters were written not the Susan was written!!! :D
It seems a bit awkward to me, why should we choose E???
please Explain!!!!

Feb 24, 2015 • Comment

Jonathan , Magoosh Tutor


"Which" modifies "letters" here, not "Susan."

You are referring to the "touch rule" in which a noun modifier must be next to the noun it modifies. However, there are exceptions to the "touch rule."

In this case, we have:

"...LETTERS to Susan..."

"to Susan Huntington" is an essential modifier of the noun "letters." It defines WHICH letters we are talking about.

Because "to Susan Huntington" is an ESSENTIAL modifier, it is okay for this modifier to come between "letters" and "which." In this case, the "which" does NOT have to refer to Susan just because it is the closest noun.

I hope this helps.

Mar 16, 2015 • Reply


Gravatar Mike McGarry, Magoosh Tutor

May 22, 2013 • Comment


Doesn't outnumbering in Option A modify Emily Dickinson's letters?
Present Participles can modify entire clause. Right?

Aug 4, 2015 • Reply

Jonathan , Magoosh Tutor

Good question. Yes, a present participle can modify an entire clause, and a participle after a comma can correctly modify the subject of the previous clause. For example:

"Emily's letters were extremely numerous, outnumbering her letters to anyone else."

Would be okay.

But in this case of this sentence, there is a long phrase in between "letters" and "outnumbering":

"period beginning a few years before Susan's marriage to Emily's brother and ending shortly before Emily's death in 1886"

This makes it unclear what "outnumbering" is referring to. I would say it seems to refer more to "period."

I hope that helps.

Aug 11, 2015 • Reply

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