In no other historical sighting did Halley’s Comet cause such a worldwide sensation as did its return in 1910-1911.
(This question is from Official Guide. Therefore, because of copyrights, the complete question cannot be copied here. The complete question can be viewed on GMATClub)
The first thing that comes to mind when you see the sentence is that it is not a regular sentence structure. It is actually inverted sentence structure, which, though not very regularly, does appear on GMAT time and again. As the name “inverted” implies, in this structure, the verb appears before the subject.
To understand the sentence, we first need to identify the verb. What is the verb or the action in the sentence?
If you read it carefully, you’ll see that the action is “cause such a worldwide sensation”. However, here ‘did’ is also part of the verb. Therefore, the verb is ‘did cause’.
Once you have identified the verb, you can ask yourself ‘who has performed this action?’. The answer is ‘Halley’s comet’.
Having identified the subject and the verb, it is generally quite easy to convert the sentence structure into the normal form since the inverted sentence structure is just a reordering of the words; no new words are inserted or words deleted when converting the sentence into its normal form.
However, this sentence is in negative form “In no other historical..” and thus, slight modifications in the words are required. The corresponding sentence in the regular form for the given sentence is:
Halley’s comet did not cause such a worldwide sensation in any historical sighting as did its return in 1910-1911.
The sentence, as is, compares Halley’s comet with its return. It says that its return in 1910-11 caused more worldwide sensation than Halley’s comet did in any historical sighting.
The meaning looks inappropriate. We shouldn’t be comparing Halley’s comet with its return. It would be far more appropriate if we compare the performance of Halley’s comet in its different returns. Probably, that is what the intended meaning is.
As identified in the Meaning Analysis, the main error here is the inappropriate comparison.
(A) Incorrect. For the reason described above.
(B) Incorrect. For two reasons:
- It repeats the error that was in option A i.e. it compared Halley’s comet with its return
- It uses “had” as the auxiliary verb, instead of “did”. The presence of “had” indicates past perfect, and “had” requires the verb form “caused”. However, “caused” is not present in the sentence. Therefore, the ellipsis is not used properly here. Besides, since the sequencing of the two events is not clear, “past perfect tense” is not correct.
(C) Correct. Now the sentence becomes:
In no other historical sighting did Halley’s Comet cause such a worldwide sensation as in its return of 1910–1911
The sentence is correct as it compares the performance of Halley’s comet in its different sightings. It says that Halley’s comet caused more worldwide sensation in its return of 1910-1911 than in any other historical sighting.
Actually, “it did” is elided in the part following the “as” since both the subject and the verb are clear. The sentence without ellipsis would read like this:
In no other historical sighting did Halley’s Comet cause such a worldwide sensation as it did in its return of 1910–1911
Now, some of my students have shown discomfort with the ‘of’ in “return of 1910-1911”. If you are also uncomfortable, then here’s something to learn from this question: This usage is fine. Why? Because this is an official question, and everything that is part of the correct option is correct. So, even if you have been uncomfortable with this use till now, learn from this example and be open to this structure.
(D) Incorrect. This option is exactly the same as option A. The only difference is the placement of “did”. However, the placement of the verb – either before or after the subject – in the comparisons involving “as” or “than” does not matter. Therefore, option A and option D are equivalent. Thus, option D is wrong for the same reason as option A.
(E) Incorrect. The sentence with option E becomes:
Halley’s comet did not cause such a worldwide sensation in any historical sighting as its return in 1910–1911
In this sentence, we can see that “as” is followed by a noun phrase, not a clause. However, when “as” is used to present comparisons, it needs to be followed by a clause. (The only exception to this rule is when ‘as’ is used in ‘as…as’ – e.g. as much as, as many as, as long as – or ‘same as’ structures.)
If you know the rule that the placement of the verb with respect to the subject after ‘as’ in a comparison does not matter, then you can reject option A and option D out rightly. Why? Because then you know that since there is no difference between option A and option D, either both will be right or both will be wrong. Since two options cannot be correct, both must be incorrect.
With that reasoning, you can reject option A and option D, and if you do that, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of picking option C 🙂