To estimate the expansion rate of the universe is a notoriously difficult problem

Question

To estimate the expansion rate of the universe is a notoriously difficult problem because there is a lack of a single yardstick that all distances can be measured by.

Option A
Option B
Option C
Option D
Option E

(This question is from Official Guide. Therefore, because of copyrights, the complete question cannot be copied here. The question can be accessed at GMAT Club)

Solution

Sentence Analysis

  • To estimate the expansion rate of the universe is a notoriously difficult problem (Main Subject: To estimate…universe (Infinitive phrase); Main Verb: is)
  • because there is a lack of a single yardstick (Dependent clause modifying the main verb– Subject: A lack of a single yardstick; Verb: is)
    • that all distances can be measured by. (Dependent clause modifying ‘yardstick’ – Subject: all distances; Verb: can be measured)

The sentence says that doing something (estimating the expansion rate of the universe) is a notoriously difficult problem. Why? Because there is no one way of measurement to measure all distances.

The sentence as such has no grammatical or logical errors. However, the sentence can be improved in a couple of ways:

  1. “There is no single yardstick” succinctly says the same thing as “there is a lack of a single yardstick”.
  2. It is ‘generally’ recommended that sentences/clauses don’t end with a preposition. Thus, “that all distances can be measured by” is better replaced by “by which all distances can be measured”.

Option Analysis

(A) Incorrect. For the problems highlighted above.

(B) Correct. This option corrects both the problems in the original sentence. I believe both ‘to estimate’ and ‘estimating’ are correct.

(C) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. Both the problems of the original sentence.
  2. Given the change in the order of the information, the emphasis in the sentence has shifted. In the original sentence, the emphasis is on ‘estimating being a difficult problem’. In this option, the emphasis is on ‘lack of a single yardstick’. The emphasis in the original sentence makes more sense.

(D) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. In the structure ‘X is a difficult problem’, the emphasis is on X. In the structure, ‘a difficult problem is X’, the emphasis is on identifying a difficult problem. In the context of the sentence, it makes sense to emphasize ‘X’. Thus, the construction in this sentence is inferior to that in option B.
  2. The construction ‘a single yardstick is lacking’ is inferior to the construction ‘there is no single yardstick’.
  3. The modifier ‘by which all…measured’ is separated from the noun ‘yardstick’ by the verb.

(E) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. First problem of option D.
  2. The part after ‘because’ is an inverted sentence. After converting into the regular form, it becomes ‘all distances cannot be measured by a single yardstick’. However, this gives a meaning different from that of the original sentence. This construction seems to eliminate even any future possibility of such a single yardstick. It says that measuring all distances by a single yardstick is impossible. However, the original sentence meant that currently there is no single yardstick by which all distances can be measured. The meaning of the original sentences looks more reasonable.

If you have any doubts regarding any part of this solution, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

About Chiranjeev Singh

An Alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and with scores of 780 (2017) and 770 (2013) on GMAT and 99.98%ile on CAT, Chiranjeev is one of the most qualified GMAT tutors in India. Chiranjeev has earlier served as Director of Curriculum at e-GMAT. Chiranjeev has been helping students ace GMAT since 2012. He follows a concept-based methodology to teaching GMAT and is very committed to student success. You may contact him for any private GMAT tutoring needs at CJ@GMATwithCJ.com. He conducts online sessions for students across the world.

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