Learn when Diction Impacts Grammar in GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

Tone Diction GMATAs you may know, diction refers to word choice. Usually, we use the term “diction” to describe an author’s tone or style - rarely does word choice have an effect on grammar. In some cases, though, it does. The GMAT Sentence Corrections will test you only on those occasions when word choice affects grammar, not when one word will be more effective than another.

1. Adverbs vs. Adjectives

While the subject of adverb usage may deserve its own category, the topic can be included under diction. Simply put, an adverb (those words that often end in ly) describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb, while an adjective describes a noun.

Adverb usage is the reason we say “I did well on my test” and not “I did good on my test;” well is an adverb while good is an adjective.

Example 1. Scientists dream of one day creating armies of nanobots, tiny robots smaller than a cell, that can enter the human body and use their practical unlimited access to find and repair defects in bodily structures.

A. practical unlimited access to find and repair defects
B. practical unlimited access to finding and repairing defects
C. practically unlimited access to find and repair defects
D. practically unlimited access for finding and repairing defects
E. practically unlimited access for finding defects and repairing them

Here, we are trying to describe the adjective “unlimited” with the adjective “practical,” which is incorrect. To describe an adjective, we should use the adverb “practically,” so we can quickly eliminate A and B. Upon closer inspection, we can eliminate D and E because each uses the idiomatically incorrect phrase “use *noun* for finding” rather than the correct version “use *noun* to find.” C is our answer.


Quantity words include “many,” “less,” “fewer,” “much,” etc. Some quantities are countable, that is, things that can be counted (persons, pizzas, pens), and some quantities are not countable (e.g. courage, care, calcium).

The words fewer, many, and number are used for countable nouns.
The words less, much, and amount/quantity are used for uncountable nouns.
In a classic example of incorrect quantity usage, think of the express line at the supermarket labeled “ten items or less.” Believe it or not, the phrase “ten items or less” violates the quantity rule. Since “items” are countable, we should use the word “fewer,” as in “I have fewer items than you.”

Example 1:

Countable: I have many books; you have fewer books than I. I have a higher number of books than you.

Uncountable: I have less courage than you; I wish I had as much courage as you do. The amount of courage you have amazes me.

Example 2. School administrators face a peculiar challenge in their quest for cultural inclusiveness; official recognition of the growing amount of religious holidays means less days are spent in school.

A. of the growing amount of religious holidays means less days are spent in school
B. for the growing number of religious holidays means less days are spent at school
C. for the increasing amount of religious holidays mean fewer days are spent in school
D. of the increasing number of religious holidays mean fewer days are spent in school
E. of the growing number of religious holidays means fewer days are spent in school

First, we should notice that ‘days’ is a countable noun, so “less” should be replaced with “fewer.” Second, we should notice that “holidays,” like “days,” is countable, so “amount” should be replaced with ‘number.” Choice D and E are the only ones that make these changes. You’ll have to notice that D contains a subject-verb agreement error in using “mean” - the subject is ‘recognition,’  a singular noun. E is our answer.

3.Comparison Words

Comparison words are determined based on the number of items compared. With comparison words, you must choose between better and best, between and among, less and least, and more and most.

For two items use better, between, less, and more.

For three or more items, use best, among, least, and most.

1. I choose between my two best friends, but I choose among my three favorite books.

2. My accounting skills are better than Dan’s, but they are the best among the entire department.

3. Between John and me, I am the less successful employee, but out of all my coworkers, I am the least successful employee.

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