The choice between verb-ing and to-verb in GMAT Sentence Correction is something that has troubled test-takers forever. Though there are no blanket rules that will help you tackle questions that test this, there are certain guidelines you can follow to make the right choice.
General Usage Guidelines For To-Verb And Verb-Ing
To-verb: This is the short form of ‘in order to’ and is used to convey an intent or purpose. For example,
I practiced for nine hours every day to make my moves perfect.
I practiced for nine hours every day for making my moves perfect.
What was my purpose? My purpose was to make my moves perfect. There is an objective/intent here – therefore, the to-verb form is appropriate.
For Verb-ing: This is used to answer the question ‘What for?’ For example,
Sandra was praised for showing presence of mind.
Sandra was praised to show presence of mind.
What was Sandra praised for? Because she did something – she showed presence of mind. Hence, the verb-ing form is correct.
Let us look at this official question:
New genetic evidence – together with recent studies of elephants’ skeletons, tusks, and other anatomical features – provides compelling support for classifying Africa’s forest elephants and its savanna elephants as separate species.
A. provides compelling support for classifying
B. provides compelling support to classify
What does the new evidence provide support for? It provides support for classifying Africa’s elephants as separate species.
There is no intent or purpose evident here. Therefore, A is the correct answer.
Now let’s take a look at another official question:
…the National Academy of Sciences has urged the nation to revamp computer security procedures, institute new emergency response teams. and create a special nongovernment organization for taking charge of computer security planning.
A. and create a special nongovernment organization for taking
B. and create a special nongovernment organization to take
What is the objective/purpose of the special nongovernmental organization? The purpose is to take charge of computer security planning.
Since a clear objective is evident here, option B is the correct answer.
In some questions, the choice between to-verb or verb-ing may be dictated by the overall parallelism of the sentence (including the non-underlined part). The simple rule is this: if other parts of the sentence’s parallel structure use the verb-ing form, pick the verb-ing form; if these parts use the to-verb form, use the to-verb form.
Let me take an example:
Hundreds of species of fish generate and discharge electric currents…, using their power for finding and attacking prey, to defend themselves, or also for communication and navigation.
A. for finding and attacking prey, to defend themselves, or also for communication and navigation
B. to find and attack prey, to defend themselves, or to communicate and navigate
What do the fish use their power for? The fish use their power for finding and attacking prey, for defending themselves etc.
What is the objective behind the use of electric discharges? The fishes use their electric discharges to find and attack prey, to defend themselves etc.
Now how would you resolve this dilemma? 🙂
This is when you need to look at the sentence structure. Choice A has incorrect parallelism between ‘for finding and attacking’, ‘to defend’ and ‘for communication…’ However, choice B rectifies these issues and has accurate parallelism between ‘to find’, ‘to defend’ and ‘to communicate’. Thus B is the right answer.
There is no universal rule to choose between to-veb and for-verb-ing – it depends on the context. Check for intent/purpose, ‘what for?’ questions and parallelism before making your choice.
Hope these techniques make a positive difference to your GMAT prep! If you’d like to share what works for you and what doesn’t, please leave a comment in the comment section below.
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