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Recently, while riding the subway, I saw an ad that captures one of the most common GMAT Sentence Correction errors. If you live in New York, you’ve probably seen it:
“This poster can make you happier than any other on the subway.”
Though I’m sure most subway riders have more pressing concerns than the nuances of English grammar, this ad caught my attention because, much like the errors you’ll see on GMAT sentence correction, the mistake here is subtle and might go unnoticed upon a superficial reading (it certainly didn’t arouse the suspicion of whoever edited the ad!).
Let’s break the sentence down to understand the error:
First, we see a phrase that indicates comparison: “…happier than…”
As I explain to my students, when you see a word in a sentence that indicates comparison, your first step should be to identify what the sentence is comparing. In this case, what is happier than what? Well, according to the sentence “you” will be happier than “any other” on the subway.
Now, we see the word “other,” which, for all intents and purposes, functions as a pronoun. Pronouns must always have clear noun antecedents, so, in this sentence, “other” must either refer to “you” or to “poster.” Since we can’t compare “you” to “you,” we can infer that “other” must refer to “poster.”
So, now we’ve determined what’s being compared: the happiness of “you” to the happiness of “any other poster.” Our next step (and this is essential) is to determine whether the comparison is logical. The GMAT will often make comparisons that, though fine grammatically, simply don’t make sense. Let’s see if this example qualifies.
The fundamental principal in this situation is one you learned in grade school: apples to apples and oranges to oranges. You can only draw a comparison between two things that are logically comparable. In this case, it is illogical to compare a human being and a poster. So, the ad is an error.
What was the author trying to say? Well, given that it was an advertisement for some sort of philosophical institute, it appears that the author intends to express that the ad in the subway will make “you” happier than any other ad in the subway will. In other words, the author wants to compare what the ad does to what other ads do. This is a perfectly fine comparison and can be phrased as follows: “This ad will make you happier than WILL any other on the subway.”