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Source: Official Guide for the GMAT 13th Ed. Sentence Correction; #70 Official Guide for the GMAT 2015 14th Ed. Sentence Correction; #70


The first trenches that were cut into

The first trenches that were cut into a 500-acre site at tell Hamoukar, Syria, have yielded strong evidence for centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East that were arising simultaneously with but independently of the more celebrated city-states of southern Mesoptamia, in what is now southern Iraq.

4 Explanations


Arijit Das

Hi Mike,

I have a question related to this sentence. " cut into a 500-acre site" shouldnt this phrase be be after a comma to work a modifier. I understand we can shorten " That were cut into" to "cut into".


Apr 27, 2018 • Comment

David Recine

Hi Arjit,

You ask an interesting question. It is possible to write this sentence without a comma before "cut into a 500-acre site," as you can see in the correct answer choice.

It's also possible to add a comma before "cut into a 500-acre site," but doing so would slightly change the meaning of the sentence.

As seen in the correct answer choice, "The first trenches cut into a 500-acre site" (no comma) means that these trenches were the very first trenches to be cut into a specific site. However, "The first trenches, cut into a 500-acre site" (with comma) tell a different story. In that case, the comma indicates a certain amount of separation from the idea of "first" and the 500-acre site. In other words, with the comma, the trenches are the "first" in some way, but they are not necessarily the first trenches to be cut into the site-- instead, all we can know is that the trenches are the first at something, and also happen to be cut into the 500-acre site.

With this comma separation, "cut into..." also changes form being a vital modifier-- one that can't be separated from the noun it modifies, to a non-vital modifier. When commas mark a modifier as non-vital, it can be removed from the sentence without changing any important meaning in the sentence.

Apr 30, 2018 • Reply


Adam Gay

Hi Mike,
I have confusion with the portion "...cut into a 500-acre site ...". Would this be a modifier? I got the wrong answer because I thought "The first trenches cut into a 500-acre site..." was an independent clause and "that" was a necessary relative pronoun, which allows "have yielded" to clearly be the main verb. Thanks in advance for any assistance.

Feb 12, 2016 • Comment

Cydney Seigerman, Magoosh Tutor

Hi Adam,

Yes, the phrase "cut into ... Syria" in (E) is a noun modifier. As Jonathan notes, "cut into ... Syria" has the same meaning as "that were cut into ... Syria" and is used to describe the trenches, the main noun. With that in mind, the main verb "have yielded" in the original sentences is also the main verb in (E).

I hope this helps :)

Feb 15, 2016 • Reply


kirti vardhan

Hi Mike,

I have a confusion with the meaning.I feel it was the 500 acre site that yielded evidence and not the the first trenches.

I often get confused in such structures.

May 7, 2015 • Comment

Jonathan , Magoosh Tutor

Hi Kirti,
Don't let the extra information confuse you!

"that were cut into....Syria" is describing "trenches."

In (E), we have "cut into...Syria" which is the same but just omits "that were" (this is okay).

So the main subject is "trenches" and "have yielded" is the main verb.

My advice is to note the main subject and skip through until you "hit" the main verb.

Once you see "that were cut into...." you know that this is a new, dependent clause that cannot contain the main verb. So look after this to find the main verb. I hope that helps :)

May 14, 2015 • Reply


Gravatar Mike McGarry, Magoosh Tutor

May 22, 2013 • Comment

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