Heating-oil prices are expected to be higher this year

Question

Heating-oil prices are expected to be higher this year than last because refiners are paying about $5 a barrel more for crude oil than they were last year.

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

The structure of the sentence is:

X because Y.

Both X and Y contain comparisons.

Let’s first look at X.

X: Heating-oil prices are expected to be higher this year than last

If we just forget the grammar and try to understand the meaning, understanding the meaning will not be difficult. X says that heating-oil prices are expected to be higher this year than last year i.e. if the price last year was $100, expected price for this year is greater than $100. However, when we try to assess the grammar of the sentence, many people find issues with X. The first obvious thing, they say, is the absence of ‘year’ after ‘last’. The other thing, they say, is that it seems we are comparing this year with last year; however, logically we should be comparing the heating oil prices in the two years.

Both of these points are not entirely illogical. However, we know that both of them are wrong. Why? Because the original sentence is correct, per OG. So, instead of challenging the sentence and wasting our time (challenging anything official is a waste of time! Isn’t it?), we can try to learn from the sentence. We can learn that such ellipsis as eliding ‘year’ after ‘last’ is fine. Also, the comparison the way it is presented is correct, even though it sounds incorrect to many. This is another learning.

Now, let’s look at Y:

Y: refiners are paying about $5 a barrel more for crude oil than they were last year.

The meaning of Y is that if refiners were paying $x per barrel last year, this year they are paying $(x+5). In the ‘than’ part, ‘paying’ has been elided. However, such ellipsis is correct since the same word appears in the first part of the comparison. The part without ellipsis will read “than they were paying last year”.

The meaning of the whole sentence is (in a broad sense): Heating oil prices are expected to be higher because refiners are paying more.

The meaning is logical. Also, there is no grammar error in the sentence.

Therefore, the original sentence is correct.

Option Analysis

(A) Correct.

(B) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. The use of both “rise” and “higher” together is redundant and incorrect.
  2. “higher…over” is incorrect. The correct comparison structure is “higher…than”.
  3. The use of simple present ‘pay’ indicates that it is a generally the case that refiners pay… Clearly, we are not talking about a general case. We are talking about something happening this year.
  4. When we say “X is paying $5 for a toffee more than he did last year”, it seems as if X is now paying only $5 for a toffee, and this $5 is more than the amount he paid for a toffee last year. Clearly, this is not the intended meaning. We want to say that he paid $5 more than what he paid last year. Right?

(C) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “last year’s” should be “last year” to be parallel to “this year”. Also, since we don’t have “this year’s xyz”, saying “last year’s” doesn’t make sense.
  2. Error no. 4 of option B
  3. We should use ellipsis only (barring a few exceptions) if the same words used before can be repeated in the structure. Here, when we use ellipsis i.e. use “did”, we know that ‘did’ cannot be followed by ‘paying’, the word used in the first part of the comparison (‘did paying’ is not correct; ‘did pay’ is correct). Therefore, we cannot use ellipsis here and must say ‘they did pay’.

(D) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “higher…over” is incorrect.
  2. “It is the expectation” is a wordy way to express the same idea expressed more concisely in the original sentence.
  3. Now, ‘than’ is followed by a noun (a noun-clause i.e. a clause acting as a noun) rather than a clause. Since, the part before ‘than’ is a clause, it is preferable to have a clause after ‘than’. Besides, adding ‘what’ adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence.

(E) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. Use of “rise” and “higher” together is incorrect.
  2. It should be “last year” to be parallel to “this year”. Also, since we don’t have “this year’s xyz”, saying “last year’s” doesn’t make sense.
  3. The use of simple present ‘pay’ indicates that it is a generally the case that refiners pay… Clearly, we are not talking about a general case. We are talking about something happening this year.
  4. When we say “X is paying $5 for a toffee more than he did last year”, it seems as if X is now paying only $5 for a toffee, and this $5 is more than the amount he paid for a toffee last year. Clearly, this is not the intended meaning. We want to say that he paid $5 more than what he paid last year. Right?

At the end, I’d like to say that I understand completely why you may not be comfortable with the original sentence. However, after our analysis, you can see that there are just too many problems with other options for them to be considered attractive or correct. Right?

So, even if you are not completely comfortable with option A, I hope you agree that it is the BEST choice among all the options. And actually, finding the best choice among the given options is our job. Our job is not to find the best ever possible choice. So, in the exam, when you come across such a question, try to find deterministic errors (errors for which you can reject the option statements) in four option statements and then mark the remaining option as the correct and move on.

About Chiranjeev Singh

An Alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and with a score 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 +91 9971 0010 67 or CJ@GMATwithCJ.com. He conducts online sessions for students across the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

11 + twenty =