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Sentence Completion Overview

On sentence completion questions, you will be provided with a single sentence with either one or two words omitted, and you'll need to select from the answer choices the word or set of words that best fit the overall meaning of the sentence. You are provided with the following instructions:

Each sentence below has one or two blanks, each blank indicating that something has been omitted. Beneath the sentence are five lettered or sets of words. Choose the word or set of words for each blank that best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

You are asked to select the "best" word or set of words from among the word choices, and this at times can be tricky because the choices may all seem irrelevant or not as good a fit as you might imagine.

Luckily, just as with the antonym and analogy questions, there are certain tactics that you can employ to help you weed out poor answer choices. The tactics that you can employ include:
  • Try to arrive at the answer BEFORE you look at the answer choices.
  • Look for key words that indicate a shift or a continuation or support of a certain idea.
  • When dealing with a sentence with two blanks, eliminate answers as you consider one blank at a time.

Sentence Completion: Fill in the Gap

Just as with the analogy and antonym verbal questions, on a sentence completion question you should attempt to mentally fill in the missing word or words before you look at the answer choices. This is not because you want to guess the right answer (which, accidentally you might), but because you want to actively think about the questions. Most often you'll have at least a vague idea of the main point of the sentence and so you'll find that your solution to the missing word or words may be a synonym for one of the answer choices, after which it is then simple to select the right answer. For example, consider the following sentence completion question:

In an attempt to _______ the swan so that it could
be safely relocated to an animal sanctuary, the
warden injected the animal with a tranquilizer, after
which the animal slept for over three hours.

Even without looking at the word choices, can you fill in the blank? First point out the key facts about the sentence: a swan, some sort of an injection, a tranquilizer, and sleep. What do these terms imply? And what does a warden have to do with all this? As you can already imagine, the key term "In an attempt" creates a relationship between the first part of the sentence and the second, and so why would the tranquilizer be adminsterd? You should be able to ration that a tranquilizer is given to calm or to put to sleep, and in fact that's what the second part of the sentence is stating. So, the first blank in the sentence should be a synonym for sleep or calm.

And so now we look at the word choices:


Do any of the answer choices resemble the terms sleep or calm? Enliven means the opposite of sleep, so eliminate choice 1. Mediate means to reduce or to arbitrate, so that doesn't make sense. Sedate means to put to sleep, and that's a great match, but make sure that there are no better answers. Secure means to fasten, and that's a valid answer, but sedate is much better, so eliminate secure. Club means to hit, and although that's a valid verb for this sentence, it does not follow with the meaning of the sentence because you wouldn't want to hit something which you want to transport to a sanctuary, which is a place of safe haven. So alas, the third choice, sedate, is the best answer.

Sentence Completion: Key Words

The correct answer to a sentence completion question will always maintain the overall flow and meaning of the sentence. To easily detect the flow of a sentence, you'll want to look for key words which indicate a shift in meaning, tone, etc., or which otherwise maintain certain tone and hence imply continuation of a theme.

For example, consider the following sentence:

We were overjoyed by his homecoming; however,
we were conscious of the fact that his high strung
nature would be the cause of _______ during his visit.

Even before you look at the answer choices, you should note that this sentence is a compound sentence -- there are two statements, joined through the use of a semicolon. Most importantly, notice that the second part of the statement begins with the word however, which is a contrast word, and so the general tone and meaning of the second part of the sentence should be in contrast to the first. In the first part of the sentence the main idea is that of being overjoyed, which is a positive emotion, and so the second part of the sentence should imply the opposite, as indicated by the use of the contrast word however. Possible answer choices for the blank are thus stress, consternation, angst, etc., all of which are roughly opposite in meaning of joy. Only after you have done such analysis should you then proceed to the answer choices.

Words that indicate contrast
and indicate shift in flow
however, although, but, despite, on the contrary, yet, on the other hand, surprisingly, unlike, in contrast, rather
Words that signify support
and maintain flow
likewise, furthermore, namely, resembles, for instance, specifically, such as, as for example, like, likewise
Words that signify a consequence
and imply a causal relationship
because, therefore, consequently, thus

Should you memorize this list? No, bust just be cognizant of key words and that they will help you to eliminate those answer choices which do not maintain the overall flow and meaning of the sentence.

Sentence Completion: One Blank

When you are presented with a sentence completion question with one blank, you'll have to select the answer choice that best fits the overall meaning of the sentence. As part review, here is the process that you should go through as you attempt each GRE sentence completion question.

  1. For both one and two-blank questions, mentally think of your own word or words that you would supply to complete the sentence. It's not important that you predict one of the answer choices -- what's important is that you begin to thing about the sentence.
  2. Look for key words which indicate a change of tone or mood, a continuation of an idea, a predict a continuation of the sentence where supporting material is provided.
  3. Determine if the missing word or words are adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc., and eliminate those answer choices that do not follow these constraints.
  4. Once you have eliminated choices and there is more than one choice remaining, then consider each choice and select that one which is the BEST answer, keeping in mind that the best answer may not be as good an answer as the one that you can imagine.

    Sentence Completion: Two Blanks

    A few of the sentence completion question will contain two blanks, and so your job will be to determine which of the provided answer choices best fit into the two blanks. The fact that there are two blanks can make a dual blank question more difficult than a sentence completion question with just one blank, but likewise having two blanks to consider can make the problem quite difficult. You'll want to consider the following:
    • At first, don't look at the answer choices. As in the single blank sentence completion questions, mentally try to come up with word choices for both blanks that would make the sentence correct. However, use the mental completion tactic on dual blank questions only to get you thinking about the sentence; in most cases you won't be able to eliminate answer choices quite yet.
    • Look at the individual words in each of the answer choices and spot those words that would definitely not fit into the sentence. After you've done that, you should be able to eliminate several answer choices. Most importantly, eliminate an answer choice even if only one of the two words for that choice does not fit into the sentence. Remember that both words have to fit into the sentence, and so don't get fooled into selecting an answer only because one of the answer choices fits.
    • Lastly, after you've weeded out some of the answer choices, probably you'll have a few answer choices remaining. Select that answer choice whose words best fit into the sentence and whose words are most grammatically and stylistically correct.
    • Lastly, employ those tactics that you use on single blank sentence completion questions. Look for key words to help you point out any change or continuation of mood, style, evidence, etc., and make sure that the overall meaning of the sentence, when supplied with the answer choice that you select, is correct.

    Sentence Completion: When all else fails...

    When all else fails -- when you've employed the key word tactic, when you've eliminated as many choices as possible, when you've made sure to eliminate those words that make the flow of the sentence go awry -- what can you do? "Listen" to the sentence; perhaps even read it out lout. As with most languages, people have the innate ability to detect when a sentence or parts of a sentence are grammatically or stylistically correct. Does the sentence sound awkward? Do you stumble over the words or do they flow freely? If the flow of the sentence is choppy or if something does not sound right, then chances are that something is not right. Consider the two following sentences; can you spot which one of the two is correct and which one is not?

    The boisterous laughter of the swelling crowd deafened our senses.

    The trepidity laughter of the budding crowd deafened our senses.

    If you don't know the meanings of the words boisterous, trepidity, swelling, or budding, then first consider each sentence, one word at a time. "boisterous laughter" sounds okay, as so does "swelling crowd". The fragment "trepidity laughter", however, sounds odd, and in fact, trepidity, which means fear or distress, does not fit the meaning of the sentence at all, both in meaning and in grammar. The key fact to note here is that in addition to having to know your vocabulary, you'll sometimes need to rely on your intuition to arrive at the right answer, and it's only after you practice and hone in your so-called inner-ear, that you'll be able to zip right through the sentence completion questions.

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