Emily Dickinson’s letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson 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.
(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)
Let’s look at the sentence structure:
- Emily Dickinson’s letters (Main Subject)
- to Susan Huntington Dickinson (modifying “letters”)
- were written over a period (Main verb “were written”)
- beginning a few years before Susan’s marriage to Emily’s brother (Verb-ing modifier modifying “period)
- and ending shortly before Emily’s death in 1886 (Verb-ing modifier modifying “period)
- , outnumbering her letters to anyone else. (Verb-ing modifier modifying the preceding clause)
The sentence says that ED’s letters to SHD were written over a certain period. The period began a few years before xyz marriage and ended shortly before Emily’s death. These letters outnumber ED’s letters to anyone else.
The only problem in the sentence is that the verb-ing modifier “outnumbering” doesn’t seem to provide additional information about the preceding clause. The preceding clause talks about when the letters were written. The verb-ing phrase talks about the number of letters. Thus, verb-ing phrase is not providing any relevant information to the clause. Please note that this is a subtle error, ‘subtle’ especially since the “verb-ing” modifier makes sense with the subject of the clause. It is not unexpected that one may not catch this error in the first go. However, once a person has read option E, which is the correct choice, the person should have sufficient reason to read both of these options closely and then finally identify this error in option A.
(A) Incorrect. For the reason mentioned above.
(B) Incorrect. For the following reasons:
- The use of simple present “begins” is incorrect since we are talking about a past event.
- Two verbs “were written” and “outnumber” are not connected properly. Two verbs cannot be connected using a comma.
(C) Incorrect. For the following reasons:
- The use of simple present “ends” is incorrect since we are talking about a past event.
- “beginning” and “that ends” are not parallel. Either both should be verb-ing modifiers or both should be relative clauses.
- No main verb in the sentence. Both ‘written’ and ‘outnumbering’ are modifiers.
(D) Incorrect. For the following reasons:
- “beginning” and “ending” are the only two members in the list, so they cannot be joined just by a comma.
- No main verb in the sentence
Another interesting thing about this question is that in the correct option, ‘which’ modifies a quite far-away noun ‘letters’. This question must clear-up a very common misconception that a noun modifier, especially ‘which’ or ‘that’, must touch the noun.