Nobody knows exactly how many languages there are

Question

Nobody knows exactly how many languages there are in the world, partly because of the difficulty of distinguishing between a language and the sub-languages or dialects within it, but those who have tried to count typically have found about five thousand.

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 sentence says nobody knows exactly ‘something’. The something is ‘how many languages there are in the world’ (This quoted part is a clause acting as a noun in the sentence. Such clauses are called Noun-clauses). The sentence then states the reason why nobody knows. The reason is the difficulty in differentiating between a language and its sub-languages. The sentence then presents a contrasting information that people who have tried to count the number of languages have found about five thousand languages.

Everything’s fine with this sentence. We can notice that the sentence doesn’t mention “tried to count what?”. The reason is that it is clear from the context that we are talking about the number of languages. Given that this is the correct sentence, we can learn that such omissions are acceptable on GMAT. Also, note the use of pronoun ‘those’ – it doesn’t refer to any noun in the sentence. It along with its modifier “who have tried to count” has been used in a generic sense to talk about people who have tried to count. Again, this is an acceptable usage in English. We do have sentences such as “Those who persist eventually reach their goals.” Such usage is acceptable on GMAT, as this sentence demonstrates.

Option Analysis

(A) Correct.

(B) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “them” plural noun refers to singular noun “language”.
  2. In the original sentence, there was a contrast that even though nobody knows the number of languages because of so and so difficulty, some people have tried counting. Presenting information using “with” instead of “but” distorts the meaning by eliminating the contrast.

(C) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. No antecedent for ‘it’ in the part “who have tried counting it”. Logically, we know that this part should be “tried counting the number of languages”. However, since ‘the number of languages’ doesn’t appear in the sentence, the ‘it’ cannot refer to this phrase.
  2. The simple present tense “find” indicates a general fact or rule, implying that such people always find about five thousand languages. Clearly, it distorts the meaning of the sentence.

(D) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “Between X or Y” is incorrect.
  2. “them” (in ‘within them’) plural noun refers to singular noun “language”.
  3. Using simple past ‘who tried” distorts the meaning of the original sentence. The original sentence talked about all those who have tried till now; the current option doesn’t communicate “till now” part of the time period. It just talks about some undefined past.
  4. “them” in ‘count them’ has no antecedent.

(E) Incorrect. For the following reasons:

  1. “Between X or Y” is incorrect.
  2. “them” (in ‘within them’) plural noun refers to singular noun “language”.
  3. Error no. 2 of option B.

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.

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