Marconi’s conception of the radio was as a substitute


Marconi’s conception of the radio was as a substitute for the telephone, a tool for private conversation; instead, it is precisely the opposite, a tool for communicating with a large, public audience.

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)


Sentence Analysis

The sentence says that Marconi thought of the radio as a substitute for the telephone, which is a tool for private conversation. As we read this part of the sentence, we can notice an unidiomatic use. The idiomatic use is “conceive of X as Y”, not “conception of X was as Y”. This is the first error in the sentence.

The sentence then presents a contrast using ‘instead’. Logically, it intends to say that the radio is now used for precisely the opposite reason. It is used as a tool for communicating with a large, public audience. Clearly, the radio’s use now presents a contrast to how Marconi conceived of the radio. (If you are not paying attention to the meaning, you’ll miss understanding the sentence and thus very likely get the question wrong. A knowledge of grammar can only be useful if you first try to understand the meaning that a sentence wants to communicate. Please understand that no sentence is ever written for the grammar; every sentence is written to communicate an idea. The grammar helps us communicate the idea to a larger audience and hence is useful. Therefore, grammar is always subservient to the meaning. If you don’t even know what you want to say, how will you determine which grammar to use.)

However, the way the information is presented leads to two more errors:

  • ‘it’, being a subject of the second independent clause, structurally refers to the subject of the preceding clause. Therefore, it refers to ‘conception’, rather than the ‘radio’.
  • The use of simple present ‘is’ communicates the idea as a general fact about the radio. However, logically, we want to communicate that this is what it has come to be i.e. how it has come to be used now.

Option Analysis

(A) Incorrect. For the errors described above.

(B) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. The antecedent for “which” is not clear. It seems to refer to ‘telephone’, leading to an unintended meaning. (It seems to mean that telephone is precisely the opposite)
  2. “which” cannot be the subject of an independent clause. It always indicates a dependent clause. In this option, if we take ‘which’ to be starting a dependent clause, it is not logically or grammatically parallel to anything before ‘but’.

(C) Correct. All the errors in the original sentence has been corrected. “it” cannot refer to Marconi, so it logically and grammatically refers to radio. Please also note: ‘that’ refers to ‘tool’, not ‘private conversation’.

(D) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “conceive of X to be Y” is idiomatically incorrect. The correct idiom is “conceive of X as Y”.
  2. The way it is presented, ‘a substitute for the telephone’ seems to be a modifier for ‘a tool for private conversation’. It illogically means that every tool for private conversation is a substitute for the telephone.
  3. ‘which’ refers to telephone, and thus, the option means that the telephone has become the opposite. Clearly, this is not the intended meaning. (Well, ‘which’ can also modify ‘a substitute for the telephone’. However, even in that case, it would be an illogical modification, given the role ‘a substitute for telephone’ is playing – as explained in error 2 above)

(E) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “conceive of X to be Y” is idiomatically incorrect. The correct idiom is “conceive of X as Y”.
  2. The structure of the sentence with this option is: Marconi conceived of X to be Y, other than what it is, precisely the opposite, a tool for…

The sentence looks like a combination of different phrases rather than a coherent sentence.

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 He conducts online sessions for students across the world.

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